Quartz-loving synaphea (Synaphea quartzitica) interim recovery plan 2003-2008

Interim recovery plan no. 128
Gillian Stack and Val English
Department of Conservation and Land Management, Western Australia, January 2003

1. Background

History

The first known collection of Synaphea quartzitica was from the Moora area in October 1908 by Dr. J. Burton Cleland and this specimen is now housed in New South Wales. Surveys conducted in August 1997 resulted in collection of a Synaphea specimen initially thought to be Synaphea spinulosa. However, this was positively identified as S. quartzitica by a taxonomist working on the genus. Surveys conducted in August 1998 located three additional populations nearby. However, all of the known populations are relatively small and isolated.

The wider habitat of Population 1 also contains populations of Acacia aristulata (DRF), Daviesia dielsii (DRF), Acacia congesta subsp. cliftoniana (Priority 1), Baeckea sp. Moora (Priority 3) and Regelia megacephala (Priority 4). It is part of the Heath community on the chert hills of the Coomberdale Floristic Region, which is ranked as Endangered (Hamilton-Brown 2000). This area has been subject to a mineral exploration lease, with interest focussed on the chert as a source of silicon. However, the process of transferring the care, control and management of this land to the Conservation Commission as a Nature Reserve is now well advanced, the mining company, Simcoa Operations Pty Ltd, has voluntarily relinquished its lease over this area and no mining is now likely to occur in the immediate vicinity of Synaphea quartzitica.

An Interim Recovery Plan was developed for the species in 1999 (Stack and English 1999). Information accumulated since that plan was completed has been incorporated into this plan and this document now replaces Stack and English (1999).

Description

The genus Synaphea is endemic to the south-west of Western Australia. Fifty species are currently recognised, but taxonomic work is continuing on the resolution of various complexes. The genus consists of low shrubs that have small yellow tubular flowers, and strikingly varied leaf morphology (George 1995).

Synaphea quartzitica is a low sub-shrub with several stems. The flattened leaves have 6-15 cm long petioles, and are pinnately divided with two or three pairs of lobes to 6 mm wide. The flowering spikes carry many bright yellow flowers, are 6-18 cm long and are often only a little taller than the foliage. This species can be distinguished by the leaf shape, the length of flower spikes and the very narrow stigma (George 1995).

Distribution and habitat

Synaphea quartzitica is endemic to the Moora - Watheroo area of Western Australia. It is known from four populations that contain a total of less than 350 plants, although the species is clonal and there appears to be fewer than 200 genetically distinct individuals. The species occurs on the slopes of chert hills in open heath with Melaleuca radula and Kunzea species, adjacent to tall shrubland of Allocasuarina campestris.

Critical habitat

Critical habitat is habitat identified as being critical to the survival of a listed threatened species or listed threatened ecological community. Habitat is defined as the biophysical medium or media occupied (continuously, periodically or occasionally) by an organism or group of organisms or once occupied (continuously, periodically or occasionally) by an organism, or group of organisms, and into which organisms of that kind have the potential to be reintroduced (Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999).

The critical habitat for Synaphea quartzitica comprises:

  • the area of occupancy of known populations;
  • areas of similar habitat within 200 metres of known populations, i.e. open heath associated with chert hills (these provide potential habitat for natural range extension);
  • remnant vegetation that surrounds and links several populations (this is necessary to allow pollinators to move between populations); and
  • additional occurrences of similar habitat that do not currently contain the species but may have done so in the past (these represent possible translocation sites).

Habitat critical to the survival of the species, and important populations

Given that this species is listed as Critically Endangered it is considered that all known habitat for wild and any translocated populations is habitat critical.

Benefits to other species/ecological communities

Population 1 is located within an occurrence of a Threatened Ecological Community (TEC), and other Declared Rare Flora (DRF) (Acacia aristulata (DRF), Daviesia dielsii (DRF)), also occur in the wider habitat of Population 1. Acacia aristulata is listed as Endangered, and Daviesia dielsii as Vulnerable under the EPBC Act. Recovery actions implemented to improve the quality or security of the habitat of Synaphea quartzitica Population 1 are likely to improve the status of the TEC in which this population is located, and populations of other listed species that occur in the same habitat.

International Obligations

This plan is fully consistent with the aims and recommendations of the Convention on Biological Diversity, ratified by Australia in June 1993, and will assist in implementing Australia's responsibilities under that Convention. However, as Synaphea quartzitica is not listed under any international agreement, the implementation of other international environmental responsibilities is not affected by this plan.

Role and interests of indigenous people

There are no known indigenous communities interested or involved in the management of areas affected by this plan. Therefore no role has been identified for indigenous communities in the recovery of this species.

Social and economic impacts

The implementation of this recovery plan is unlikely to cause significant adverse social and economic impacts. There are mineral leases over the area that contains population 1 of Synaphea quartzitica, however an agreement has been negotiated with the mining company with regard the future management of the area that contains the habitat of the population. Recovery actions refer to continued liaison between stakeholders with regard this area.

Evaluation of the Plans Performance

The Department of Conservation and Land Management, in conjunction with the Recovery Team will evaluate the performance of this IRP. In addition to annual reporting on progress with listed actions and comparison against the criteria for success and failure, the plan is to be reviewed within five years of its implementation.

Biology and ecology

Some Synaphea species have fire-tolerant rootstock that allows regeneration in the absence of seed. New growth has been observed resprouting from otherwise apparently dead plants of Synaphea quartzitica, so it is likely that this species would also resprout after fire. Synaphea quartzitica also produces suckers, and can use this mechanism to reproduce. This means that of the apparently total number of plants in any population, a smaller number will be genetically distinct individuals. Genetic diversity is important to enable the species as a whole to adapt to changing environments.

Seed set is low in most Synaphea species, including many that are fire-sensitive. Staff of the Department's Threatened Flora Seed Centre (TFSC) noted in October 1998 that virtually all the potential seed produced after flowering in August-September had aborted. The single Synaphea quartzitica seed collected at that time germinated approximately 10 weeks after treatment with gibberellic acid and nicking of the seed coat. Unfortunately, the seedling died before reaching maturity. The more frequent occurrence of this species along existing tracks and on long overgrown tracks suggests that disturbance stimulates germination. Alternatively, germination in these areas may relate to increased moisture. However, as it appears to set very little seed, this alone will not ensure success of the species.

The pollinators of Synaphea species are unknown, but are thought to be insects. Research suggests that pollen transfer appears to be the major factor limiting seed set in Synaphea quartzitica (Harding and Lamont 2001). On that basis, further research into the success of hand-pollination is a high priority, as is the discovery of the identity and requirements of pollinators of this species, which is crucial for its longer term management.

Threats

Due to the species' restricted distribution and threats associated with growing in a specialised habitat, Synaphea quartzitica was declared as Rare Flora in July 1998, and ranked as Critically Endangered in November 1998, because of the low number of plants, scattered distribution within and between populations, and threats associated with growing in a specialised habitat over a restricted range. The species is known from four populations, with a total of less than 350 plants, many of which form part of clumps that are assumed to be clones. It is likely that there are only about 200 genetically distinct individuals. It is now recommended for listing as Endangered (EN) under criterion D (World Conservation Union (IUCN) 2000)) because the perceived level of threat has declined since 1998 due to research that indicates the species is capable of resprouting following disturbance. In addition one of the main populations is now unlikely to be impacted by mining as a consequence of negotiations that will result in conservation management of the site. When that process is concluded all populations will be on conservation land.

Synaphea quartzitica occurs in an unusual habitat associated with chert hills of low fertility, and is therefore likely to be naturally restricted. Its rarity has been exacerbated by the mining of chert as the raw material for silicon production, and extensive clearing for agriculture that has occurred in the Moora - Watheroo area, including clearing of the known habitat. In addition, the known populations are small and threatened by grazing, track maintenance activities, and inappropriate fire regimes.

  • Grazing by rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) has had an impact on the plants at Population 1. In addition, disturbance of soil by rabbit warren construction, increased nutrient levels and the introduction of weeds from their droppings are impacting on the habitat of the species. Grazing would have an impact on the establishment of young shoots of Synaphea quartzitica thereby limiting natural recruitment.
  • Track maintenance activities have the potential to threaten plants and habitat at Populations 2, 3 and 4. Threats include grading, chemical spraying, construction of drainage channels and the mowing of vegetation alongside tracks. Several of these activities also encourage weed invasion.
  • Inappropriate fire regimes may affect the viability of populations. Mature plants probably respond to fire by resprouting from lignotubers, and frequent fire would therefore deplete lignotuber reserves, as well as degrade the surrounding habitat. Synaphea quartzitica also produces very small quantities of seed, which may germinate following fire. Therefore, occasional fires may aid recruitment.
  • Very low level of seed production threatens the species in the long term as the genetic diversity declines in all populations, leading to a decline in ability to adapt to changing conditions. This low seed set has been attributed to ineffective pollen transfer (Harding and Lamont 2001). This may be a natural characteristic as it applies to many species of Synaphea, but threatens this species because of the low total number of plants, due in part to clearing of much of the specialised habitat.
Summary of population information and threats
Pop. No. & Location Land Status Year/No. plants Condition Threats
1. North of Moora Private property,
soon to become a nature reserve.
1996 45
1998 69 (10) [19]
2001 91 (6)
2001 68 genets
Good Grazing, inappropriate fire regimes
2a. Watheroo Nat Park National Park 1998 75+
2000 146 (20) [5]
2001 194 (16)
2001 97 genets
Good Track maintenance, inappropriate fire regimes
2b. Watheroo Nat Park National Park 2000 5 Good Track maintenance, inappropriate fire regimes
3. Watheroo Nat Park National Park 1998 3
2000 2 (3) [1]
Good Track maintenance, inappropriate fire regimes
4. Watheroo Nat Park National Park 1998 29 [11] Good Track maintenance, inappropriate fire regimes

Numbers in brackets = number of juveniles; numbers in square brackets = number of dead. Bold = number of genets (genetically distinct individuals).

All other numbers refer to the number of ramets (clumps of plants assumed to be part of a clone).

Guide for decision-makers

Section 1 provides details of current and possible future threats. Developments in the immediate vicinity of the population or within the defined critical habitat of Synaphea quartzitica require assessment. No developments should be approved unless the proponents can demonstrate that they will have no significant impact on the species, or its habitat or potential habitat.