Hughans featherflower Verticordia hughanii interim recovery plan 2004-2009

Western Australian Threatened Species and Communities Unit (WATSCU)
© The Western Australian, Department of Conservation and Land Management, 2004

1. Background

History

The type collection of Verticordia hughanii was made in 1867 from an unknown location within Western Australia by Allan Hughan, after whom the species is named (Mueller 1867, George 2002). The next collection was made by Alf Gray in 1958 from between Meckering and Goomalling (Population 1). Later attempts to relocate this population proved unsuccessful until it was found by Mary and Basil Smith in December 1983. A second population was identified when private property owners notified CALM staff of an unusual looking plant located on their property in 1986 (Population 2). This is by far the larger of the two populations and consists of approximately 3500 adult plants.

Description

The genus Verticordia is well known for its colourful, showy flowers and many species have great horticultural potential. Most species of Verticordia also make excellent cut flowers and a considerable market has been established (Leigh et al. 1984). Verticordia hughanii is a small openly to densely branched shrub 15-30cm x 35 -75 cm, lacking a lignotuber and with one to several basal stems. Leaves are spreading and oblong. The foliage often changes to almost purple when plants are under stress during cold weather or summer heat. Flowers are axillary, congregated towards the apex of branches and unscented. The calyx-tube is glabrous, with five herbaceous lobes divided into plumose segments. Petals are ovate, striate, minutely denticulate towards the apex and bright red in colour (Blackall and Grieve 1980; Brown et al. 1998).

Verticordia hughanii is similar to V. drummondii but has smaller flowers and lacks fringed margins to the petals (Blackall and Grieve 1980).

Distribution and habitat

Verticordia hughanii is confined to an area between Dowerin and Goomalling in Western Australia where it grows in pinkish white sand with gypsum crystals adjacent to saline flats and in pink to yellow/grey sandy loam in open heath and low shrubland up slope. Associated species include; Acacia saligna, Acacia filifolia, Allocasuarina campestris, Actinostrobus arenarius, Banksia prionotes, Beaufortia interstans, Calothamnus brevifolius, Conospermum eatoniae, Daviesia drummondii, Eremaea pauciflora, Grevillea hookeriana subsp. apiciloba, Grevillea paniculata, Grevillea roycei, Leptospermum erubescens, Melaleuca hamulosa and Verticordia densiflora.

Biology and ecology

Verticordias are generally considered to be fire sensitive with post-fire regeneration occurring mainly from seed. Hybridisation between some species of Verticordia has been noted after soil disturbance or fire, however the mechanisms are unknown (George Elizabeth A. George, Honorary Curator, WA Herbarium, personal communication). Verticordias grow relatively rapidly and are often at their most floriferous stage within five years (George 2002). Verticordia hughanii at Population 2 began flowering in their second year. Age to senescence is relatively unknown, however one old dead plant at Population 2 was dissected to look at growth rings and 35 seasonal rings were noted (Robert Boase, CALM Volunteer, personal communication). Plants grown in Kings Park from cuttings have had an average lifespan of nine to fifteen years (Shade, unpublished data).

The method of pollination is still unclear but feral bees and moths have been seen around the flowers (Boase, personal communication). In general, Verticordias produce one seed per flower in the wild. Research by staff of CALMs Threatened Flora Seed Centre (TFSC) has shown that seed set is generally low in Verticordia (less than 51%) and is variable between species, within the same species in different locations, and in different years at the same location (Cochrane and McChesney 1995). Trials conducted by the TFSC in 1991 using seed collected at Population 2 yielded a seed set between 6 and 24% and initial germination rates of 57 to 69%, dropping to 40% after one year in storage.

Verticordia hughanii was first propagated in 1984 and can be produced by cuttings relatively easily in well drained soil (George 2002). However some difficulty in maintaining live cuttings has been recorded, possibly due to cold weather or too much water (Amanda Shade, Horticulturalist, Botanic Gardens and Parks Authority, personal communication).

A red-brown scale has been observed on some older Verticordia hughanii plants and other associated species at Population 1. The scale is thought to be from a wasp and is most likely a natural occurrence during senescence (Andras Szito, Entomologist, Agriculture Western Australia personal communication). Distinctive small insect galls that were present on first collection in 1867 can still be seen on the plants today (George 2002). Verticordia hughanii has been shown to be susceptible to Phytophthora cinnamomi (Anne Cochrane, Manager, CALM Threatened Flora Seed Centre unpublished data).

Threats

Verticordia hughanii was declared as Rare Flora under the Western Australian Wildlife Conservation Act 1950 in September 1987 and ranked as Endangered (EN) in May 1997. The species is also listed as Endangered under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). It currently meets World Conservation Union (IUCN 2000) Red List Category EN under criteria B1ab(iii)+2ab(iii) as it is known from less than five locations (two) and there is a continuing decline in the area, extent and quality of habitat. The main threats are uncontrolled vehicle access, poor recruitment, rabbits, weeds, salinity and inappropriate fire regimes.

  • Lack of recruitment, threatens Population 1 as all plants are old and very few young plants have been observed. The reasons for lack of recruitment are unknown as there is sufficient open space for new plants to establish in a weed free environment. However it is most likely that some grazing from sheep and rabbits has occurred and the increasing salinity at the site is impacting on regeneration. There may also be a need for some sort of disturbance to occur for regeneration, although the mechanics of this are unknown.
  • Rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) have the potential to impact on Population 1. It is not clear if the rabbits are grazing directly on mature Verticordia hughanii plants, however, they may impact on the establishment of seedlings thereby limiting natural recruitment. In addition, disturbance of soil by rabbit warren construction, increased nutrient levels from their droppings and the introduction of weeds impact on the habitat of the species. Rabbit scratching was noticed around population 1 in December 2003.
  • Weed invasion by wild oats (Avena fatua) is an increasing problem at Population 2. Weeds suppress early plant growth by competing for soil moisture, nutrients and light. They also exacerbate grazing pressure and increase the fire hazard due to the easy ignition of high fuel loads that are produced annually.
  • Salinisation of groundwater as a result of altered hydrology is a severe and increasing problem in the wheatbelt. Verticordia hughanii grows near saline flats that are likely to expand due to the rising water table.
  • Inappropriate fire regimes may affect the long-term viability of populations. Although research has not been done into how the species responds to fire, it is likely that frequent fire is likely to kill plants before regenerating or juvenile plants reach maturity and are able to disperse seed. Population 2 has continued to recruit well without fire. Further investigation into the effects of fire is required.
  • Change in land ownership. The current landowners of Population 2 are very enthusiastic about the conservation of Verticordia hughanii and the remnant vegetation on their property in which it occurs is registered under a CALM Land for Wildlife Voluntary agreement. However, a future change in land ownership may impact on the remnant. Liaison with possible future landowners in protecting this species may be required.

Summary of population information and threats

Pop. No. & Location Land Status Year/No. plants Condition Threats
1. SE of Dowerin Nature Reserve (Conservation of Flora and Fauna) 198480+
1988100+ (100+)
199158 [8 dead]
200118
200314
Moderate Lack of recruitment, uncontrolled access, rabbits, salinity, inappropriate fire regimes, change in land ownership
2. S of Dowerin Private Property 198630+
19871000 (300+)
19881000 (100+)
19901000+
19912700 (400) [400 dead]
19941000
20013000+
20033500+
Healthy Weeds, salinity, inappropriate fire regimes, change in land ownership.
Numbers in brackets = number of seedlings.

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 that have the potential to be reintroduced. (Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act)).

Verticordia hughanii is listed as Endangered and as such it is considered that all known habitat for wild and translocated populations is critical habitat. Critical habitat includes:

  • the area of occupancy of the known populations,
  • areas of similar habitat within 200 metres of known populations, i.e. areas of grey/yellow/pink, sandy soil among low shrubs, on the edge of salt lakes and saline flats (these provide potential habitat for natural range extension);
  • the local catchment for the surface and ground waters that provide the seasonally moist habitat of the species (the species occurs on saline flats and is dependent on maintenance of local surface hydrology),
  • additional occurrences of similar habitat i.e. areas of grey/yellow/pink, sandy soil among low shrubs, on the edge of salt lakes and saline flats that do not currently contain the species (these represent possible translocation sites).

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

Given that this taxon is listed as Endangered it is considered that all known habitat for wild and translocated populations is habitat critical, and that all populations, including any resulting from translocations, are important to the survival of the species.

Benefits to other species/ecological communities

Recovery actions implemented to improve the quality or security of the habitat of Verticordia hughanii will also improve the status of remnant vegetation in which it is located and which includes the Priority 3 taxa Calothamnus brevifolius, Conospermum eatoniae and Grevillea roycea.

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 Australias responsibilities under that Convention. Although the taxon is listed under the United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) this IRP does not affect Australias obligations under international agreements.

Role and interests of indigenous people

According to the Department of Indigenous Affairs Aboriginal Heritage Sites Register, no sites have been discovered near the Verticordia hughanii populations. Input and involvement will be sought from any indigenous groups that have an active interest in the areas that are habitat for Verticordia hughanii, and this is discussed in the recovery actions.

Social and economic impacts

The implementation of this recovery plan has the potential to have some limited social and economic impact, as one population is located on private property. However, the current landowners are keen to use this area as a private flora conservation reserve and recovery actions refer to continued liaison between stakeholders with regard to this area.

Guide for decision-makers

Section 1 provides details of current and possible future threats. Developments in the immediate vicinity of either population or within the defined critical habitat of Verticordia hughanii require assessment. No developments should be approved unless the proponents can demonstrate that they will not have a deleterious impact on the species, or its habitat or potential habitat, or the local surface and ground water hydrology.

Evaluation of the Plans Performance

The Department of Conservation and Land Management (CALM), in conjunction with the Merredin District Threatened Flora Recovery Team (MDTFRT) will evaluate the performance of this IRP. In addition to annual reporting on progress and evaluation against the criteria for success and failure, the plan will be reviewed following five years of implementation.