Stiff Groundsel (Senecio behrianus) Recovery Plan 1999-2001

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Jennifer K Alexander
Department of Natural Resources & Environment Victoria, December 1999

Contents


Acknowledgments

It is with pleasure and thanks that the Recovery Team is acknowledged for their valuable contribution to the production of this Plan.

Many thanks to:

Shirley Diez, Rod Orr, Rolf Weber, Bruce Weiner, Geoff Park, Drew Gailey and Andrea Milikins.

Summary

Current Species Status

Endangered in Victoria (Flora Information System 1996) and Australia (Briggs & Leigh 1995, ANZECC 1999). Stiff Groundsel has been listed as a threatened taxon on Schedule 2 of the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988. The plant was presumed extinct until it was located in 1991 on a road reserve in Northern Victoria. Stiff Groundsel is now known from only one wild population and three planted populations.

The number of plants in the wild population is estimated to be between 100 and 1000 plants, but there is evidence that many of the plants are linked by a woody rhizome and the total number of genetically different plants may be considerably less. There is no evidence of regeneration by seed.

Habitat Requirements and Limiting Factors

The ecology of the Stiff Groundsel is not well understood. References from herbarium records do not clearly describe the environment in which the Groundsel was found. The wild population grows in a modified Freshwater Marsh dominated by Cumbungi (Typha spp.) and Lignum (Muehlenbeckia cunninghamii). This marsh retains its seasonal flooding regime. Germination requirements are not fully understood, although it is possible that periodic inundation may assist recruitment. The population is potentially threatened by fire, lack of genetic variability, lack of regeneration and by road works and other human impacts.

Objectives

Actions

Criteria/Performance measures

  1. Determine population distribution and trends
  1. Survey
  2. Map
  3. Monitor

Likely sites searched, total population and sub-populations accurately estimated, populations trends determined

  1. Protect known populations
  1. Advise landholders / managers
  2. Fence

All sites protected from grazing; all land managers advised of location, potential threats and management requirements

  1. Establish new populations
  1. Propagate
  2. Determine habitat requirements
  3. Select reintroduction sites
  4. Conduct reintroductions

500 plants propagated and maintained; habitat requirements determined and suitable sites selected; 100 plants established at 5 separate locations

  1. Increase understanding of biology / ecology
  1. Conduct research

Key research questions determined, research projects developed and promoted to appropriate institutions

  1. Raise awareness
  1. Liaison, extension, community education

Promotional material distributed, community group/school involved in protection

Recovery Plan Objective

The objective of this recovery plan is to maintain, protect and enhance the natural population, and to re-establish self-sustaining populations for both public and private land in areas where the plant was once recorded.

Recovery Criteria

The criteria for assessing the achievement of this objective are:

  1. to protect existing plants and encourage natural regeneration at the wild site
  2. to establish at least five new colonies in more suitable and secure areas within the former range in addition to the two already established.

Actions Needed

  1. Survey and mapping
  2. Monitoring of populations
  3. Prevent incompatible uses
  4. Protection of populations from browsing
  5. Propagation
  6. Reintroduction
  7. Research
  8. Liaison, extension and community education
  9. Habitat management

Total Estimated Cost of Recovery

Action

2000

2001

2002

2003

2004

Total

 

NRE

ESP

NRE

ESP

NRE

ESP

NRE

ESP

NRE

ESP

NRE

ESP

1

$2000

$2500

$2000

$2500

$2000

$2500

$0

$0

$0

$0

$6000

$7500

2

$1300

$1500

$1300

$1500

$1300

$1500

$1300

$1500

$1300

$1500

$2500

$7500

3

$1015

$1000

$715

$0

$715

$0

$715

$0

$715

$0

$3875

$1000

4

$1500

$1000

$1500

$1000

$1500

$1000

$1500

$1000

$1500

$1000

$7500

$5000

5

$1200

$0

$1200

$0

$1200

$0

$1200

$0

$1200

$0

$6000

$0

6

$1910

$2000

$1910

$2000

$1910

$2000

$1910

$2000

$1910

$2000

$9550

$10000

7

$1400

$3000

$1400

$3000

$1400

$3000

$0

$0

$0

$0

$4200

$9000

8

$1600

$2000

$1600

$2000

$1600

$2000

$1600

$3000

$1600

$3000

$8000

$12000

9

$1500

$0

$1500

$0

$1500

$0

$1500

$0

$1500

$0

$7500

$0

Total

Biodiversity Benefits

Many swamps and marshes have been highly modified in Victoria and are now in poor condition. By promoting the rarity and vulnerability of Stiff Groundsel, there will be an increased awareness in the community of the value of swamps and marshes. The Stiff Groundsel habitat, dominated by Cumbungi (Typha spp.) and Lignum (Muehlenbeckia cunninghamii), also provides habitat for many small birds. Protecting this vegetation will benefit other species found in this vegetation type including Branching Groundsel (k) (Senecio cunninghamii var. cunninghamii) which is poorly known.

Historical collections of Stiff Groundsel indicate that the taxon was widespread but localised within the Murray-Darling system, except for one occurrence along the Glenelg River in Victoria. This plan will provide protection of this species that was once more common.


Introduction

Description

Stiff Groundsel (Senecio behrianus) is an erect, short, woolly perennial forb or subshrub, usually 15 to 100 cm high. The leaves are grey-green in colour, alternate, linear, about 25 mm long (the upper ones smaller), entire or with sparse teeth, with the margins rolled under. Flowerheads are yellow, with 6 to 8 mm long 'petals' and a yellow center, borne in loose clusters at the ends of the stems. Seeds are dark brown, flattened, 1 to 2 mm long, hairless or downy, and crowned with a tuft of numerous feathery bristles. Sparse flowering occurs from January to May.

Distribution and Habitat

The only information on the habitats of Senecio behrianus is that recorded with herbarium specimens. In South Australia the species was collected from 'Murray flats', and from sandy, loamy and sandy-clay banks of the River Murray, while a Victorian collection was made from 'swampy soil'. All collections were from the Murray-Darling System with the exception of one collection in the vicinity of the Glenelg River.

The only known wild population of Stiff Groundsel grows along about 200m of road reserve where it is found growing on a constructed bank with dry soil, in the channel beside the road, which has grey clay soils that are poorly drained, and also on the road reserve proper.

There are also three planted populations at near by Two-tree, Wallenjoe and Mansfield swamps that are on Crown land.

Ecology

The ecology of the Stiff Groundsel is poorly understood. Details of the ecological requirements of the plant can only be speculative, as the plant is known from only one location. The long-term viability of the species is unknown.

Flowering material has been seen on the plant from January to May inclusive. Seed and cuttings propagate readily, however no regeneration from seed has been observed in the field. Two samples of seed collected have been propagated at the Botanical Gardens in Melbourne. One trial sample was placed in a controlled hot house. This trial was unsuccessful. The second trial was placed in an uncontrolled cool house where seven plants germinated.

Resprouting of mature plants has been reported after fire and grading (Foreman 1996). The channel at the wild site was burnt in June or July 1994 by the adjoining landholder. By December 1994 the Senecio was reported to be vigorously regenerating from rootstock. The fire appeared to have promoted the growth of Senecio by reducing the competition effects of native and exotic plants. Up until recently the adjoining landholder burnt the site whenever it was dry enough in autumn (Allan Stewart pers. comm.). It has also been reported to have resprouted from rootstock along the margins of the road after grading in March 1996.

The site has had a long grazing history. The plant is known to be palatable and is sensitive to trampling. While it is not clear why the plant has survived at this site, it is possible that it requires a certain period of inundation. Depth of inundation may also be important. The channel at the wild site holds shallow water but in some years it completely dries up.

Species associated with Stiff Groundsel at the wild site include Cumbungi (Typha spp.), Lignum (Muehlenbeckia cunninghamii), Star-fruit (Damasonium minus), Bindweed (Convolvulus spp.) and Common Nardoo (Marsillea drummondii). Scattered Red Gums (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) previously grew in the area.

At the wild site, the plants on the levee bank appear to be smaller than those growing in the channel (the stems grow up to 1 m in length), and flower less. The vegetation growing on the bank is quite weedy, so these habits may be a consequence of intense competition. Growth appears to be more prolific in areas that are flooded up to 30 cm, and again this may be a feature of lack of competitive effects.

For planted (ex situ) populations, better survival appears to result from larger, more mature plants exposed to about 30 cm deep flooding and with little competition from surrounding flora (especially Eleocharis acuta) (Forman 1996). This was the case on the lower level of the levee bank at Two Tree Swamp where the plants were spreading and growing well even in summer. Large cracks develop in the soil amongst planted populations on the flats at both Two Tree and Wallenjoe Swamps, and the plants die off completely over summer.

Historical records indicate the species was previously widespread in the Murray-Darling system. Little native vegetation remains on the flood plains. Generally, land has been developed for irrigation or has a history of stock grazing with associated weed invasion. Water flow regimes have also been altered greatly with the construction of barrages, locks and weirs along the Murray River. Minor floods were more frequent prior to the erection of these structures which now maintain relatively stable water levels. Increasing water and soil salinity may have also contributed to the decline of Senecio.

Changed fire regimes may have impacted upon the distribution of the species. It is also possible that fire could act as a stimulus for regeneration from seed.

There may be other factors apart from these general, large scale environmental changes which may account for the decline of Senecio behrianus in the wild. For example, the erratic flowering pattern of the plant may affect pollination success, or it may require a specific pollinator which is now uncommon or extinct.


Conservation Management Issues

Current Conservation Status

Endangered in Victoria (Flora Information System 1996) and Australia (Briggs & Leigh 1995, ANZECC 1999). Stiff Groundsel has been listed as a threatened taxon on Schedule 2 of the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988.

In its final recommendation, the Scientific Advisory Committee (1991) determined that Senecio behrianus is very rare in terms of distribution and abundance, in a demonstrable state of decline which is likely to result in extinction and is significantly prone to future threats which are likely to result in extinction.

Decline

Historical records indicate that Stiff Groundsel was previously widespread. The only known wild population is on a small road reserve. Two additional populations have now been planted near the original site on crown land.

Recent trends at known locations

Wild population

The wild population grows on both sides of a road-aligned north south, east of Corop. The populations have been fenced. The wild plants flower from January to May but do not appear to produce seedlings. There does not appear to be any natural recruitment occurring however the plants seem to be spreading by underground rhizome.

Planted populations

Plants, which were grown from cuttings and planted onto public land at Wallenjoe, Mansfield and Two Tree Swamps, south-east of Corop, have done very well and flowered profusely in their first year. The planted population at Two Tree Swamp has been fenced to protect from cattle browsing. These plants are showing good growth and appear to be surviving well, particularly the group on the levee bank. Another population was planted at Mansfield Swamp in June 1999.

Threats

A range of activities threaten Stiff Groundsel:

  • Fire

Fire poses a threat as all the populations have a narrow distribution. There is little knowledge available relating to the regeneration potential of Stiff Groundsel after fire and there is little information regarding the intensity or frequency of previous fires.

  • Grazing and browsing

The species is highly palatable. Browsing or grazing by native and introduced animals, including Grey Kangaroos, Brown Hare and domestic stock, is a serious threat to the species.

  • Insufficient Genetic Variability

It is possible that much of the wild population is physically connected and may in fact only be a few separate plants. It is important that genetic variability is maintained. There is no evidence of regeneration by seed.

  • Road and Channel Maintenance

There is potential for the wild population to be damaged inadvertently from maintenance activities including spraying, road widening and fence replacement.

  • Environmental Impacts

The wild and planted populations have a narrow distribution and are at risk from environmental impacts such as weed invasion, change in farm management and possibly salinisation or altered water regimes. Inundation or flooding of the seed may be a requirement for germination.

  • Limited Natural Regeneration

Natural regeneration from seed has not been observed in the field and must at best be considered rare.

  • Inadequate knowledge of the species

The long-term viability of the wild and planted populations is unknown, largely as a result of the following knowledge gaps:

-Seed germination requirements and viability,

-The longevity of individual plants is unknown,

-It is not known if recruitment is occurring,

-The effect of fire is not clearly understood,

-The potential requirement of inundation,

-Its reproductive strategy (including pollinators) is unknown.

Existing conservation measures

  • Previous searching was undertaken in 1981 and 1982.
  • The wild population has been fenced to protect from damage.
  • Over 320 plants grown from cuttings have been re-introduced to three sites on to crown land.
  • The planted sites have been monitored since 1995.
  • The local shire and Parks Victoria have been made aware of the location of the sites, to avoid any impact from routine seasonal management.
  • Fire prevention and protection measures are part of the Regional Fire Protection Plan.

Recovery Objective and criteria

The major objective of this recovery plan is to protect and enhance the wild population and increase the number of planted populations by the year 2005.

The criteria for assessing the achievement of these objectives are:

  1. to protect existing plants and encourage natural regeneration
  2. to establish at least five new colonies in suitable and secure areas within the former range by the year 2005

Recovery actions

Survey and Mapping

Aim:To search for and locate additional populations and protect them from browsing animals and inadvertent destruction.

To locate additional habitat, focusing on freehold land.

Method:Intensively search areas of similar habitat within the current and former range on both freehold and public land. Although some searching has been undertaken this does not preclude further efforts. Use historical survey data and local knowledge. Maintain a database of site locations.

Locate additional habitat on freehold land by meeting with the community through Landcare, Trust for Nature or Land for Wildlife.

Responsibility:Department of Natural Resources and Environment

Costs

2000

2001

2002

2003

2004

NRE

$2000

$2000

$2000

$0

$0

ESP

$2500

$2500

$2500

$0

$0

Total

$4500

$4500

$4500

$0

$0

Monitoring

Aims:To assess whether existing populations are declining or expanding.

To determine growth rates, flowering levels and seed production.

Methods:Monitor populations each year at flowering time. This can be done by a consultant, PV or NRE, but may also be carried out by School Groups and local Naturalists. Financial assistance for volunteer groups can be obtained through NRE's Botanic Guardians scheme. Maintain the Victorian rare or threatened plants database (vrotpop).

Responsibility:Department of Natural Resources and Environment

Costs

2000

2001

2002

2003

2004

NRE

$1300

$1300

$1300

$1300

$1300

ESP

$1500

$1500

$1500

$1500

$1500

Total

$2800

$2800

$2800

$2800

$2800

Prevent Incompatible Uses

Aim:To protect all populations from road works and channel maintenance, including spraying.

To protect populations from inadvertent damage during fire control works, in the event of wildfire and from farming practices.

Method:Liaise with Shire and Parks Victoria to ensure the appropriate placement of roads, tracks and fire breaks.

Liaise with Parks Victoria to ensure fire retardant is not used on or near the plants and that the plants are not graded or rake-hoed.

Liaise with adjoining private landholders to ensure that the wild site is not sprayed, damaged if new fences are erected or the water regime changed through any further irrigation developments.

Liaise with all involved parties to ensure that they have access to detailed maps of populations.

Identify sites with significant roadside signs.

Responsibility:NRE, PV, Shire, Community.

Costs

2000

2001

2002

2003

2004

NRE/PV/Shire

$1015

$715

$715

$715

$715

ESP

$1000

$1000

$1000

$1000

$1000

Total

$2015

$1715

$1715

$1715

$1715

Protection of Populations from Browsing

Aim:To protect populations from disturbance associated with browsing and thus encourage natural regeneration.

Methods:Replace and extend fence at the wild site.

Investigate the need to erect fencing around planted populations to prevent or deter browsing by native or introduced animals. Where plants occur on private land, provide funding assistance for fencing.

Monitor the populations to determine if browsing is having an effect on the plants.

Responsibility: Department of Natural Resources and Environment / PV / Shire (wild site) / CMA.

Costs

2000

2001

2002

2003

2004

NRE

$1500

$1500

$1500

$1500

$1500

ESP

$1000

$1000

$1000

$1000

$1000

Total

$2500

$2500

$2500

$2500

$2500

Propagation

Aim:To propagate the species in a way that maintains genetic diversity.

To enhance existing populations and establish new populations in suitable areas.

Methods:Propagate plants using cuttings and seed collected from as many wild plants as possible.

Keep records of population stock and plantings using the vrotpop database.

Responsibility:Natural Resources and Environment

Costs

2000

2001

2002

2003

2004

NRE

$1200

$1200

$1200

$1200

$1200

ESP

$0

$0

$0

$0

$0

Total

$1200

$1200

$1200

$1200

$1200

Re-introduction

Aim:To establish 5 new populations of the species in suitable habitat in secure locations on public and private land.

To investigate the potential of establishing populations on freehold land.

A long-term aim is to establish self-sustaining populations.

Method:Develop a clear re-introduction plan based on historical knowledge.

Prioritise sites for reintroduction and enhancement plantings. Ensure populations are established in undisturbed areas.

Plant cultivated plants into selected areas and monitor survival.

Responsibility:Department of Natural Resources and Environment / CMA

Costs

2000

2001

2002

2003

2004

NRE

$1910

$1910

$1910

$1910

$1910

ESP

$2000

$2000

$2000

$2000

$2000

Total

$3910

$3910

$3910

$3910

$3910

Research

Aims:Investigate the germination requirements and seed viability of Stiff Groundsel. Include an analysis of the seed bank.

Investigate the impacts of fire, soil disturbance, salinity and inundation on the recruitment of Stiff Groundsel.

Investigate the life history and ecology of Stiff Groundsel, including pollinators.

Investigate the genetic variation of the wild population.

Method:Facilitate postgraduate research by providing funding assistance and information to institutions.

Priority areas for research would include response to fire and reproductive strategies of Stiff Groundsel.

If feasible, burn part of one of the sites in early autumn before the autumn break. Continuous liaison between all divisions of NRE, Shires and PV will be necessary.

Responsibility:Department of Natural Resources and Environment / Shires / PV

Costs

2000

2001

2002

2003

2004

NRE/PV

$1400

$1400

$1400

$0

$0

ESP

$3000

$3000

$3000

$0

$0

Total

$4400

$4400

$4400

$0

$0

Liaison, extension and community education

Aims:To increase awareness of the importance and rarity of Stiff Groundsel.

To promote a broader community interest in rare and endangered plants and vegetation communities.

Method:Involve Schools, Community groups and researchers in the protection and enhancement of Stiff Groundsel populations through programs such as Botanic Guardians.

Liaise with Bendigo Botanic Gardens and try to incorporate a display garden of locally threatened native species.

Produce and circulate a poster to increase community awareness of this plant.

In the final two years compile data, summarise results and ensure the data and results are published appropriately.

Responsibility:Department of Natural Resources and Environment / Parks Victoria

Costs

2000

2001

2002

2003

2004

NRE

$1600

$1600

$1600

$1600

$1600

ESP

$2000

$2000

$2000

$3000

$3000

Total

$3600

$3600

$3600

$4600

$4600

Habitat Management

Aim:To protect populations from environmental impacts such as weed invasion, salinity and irrigation development.

Methods:Liaise with PV, NRE, CMA and GMW to ensure natural flow regimes are not altered in a way that prevents the swamps where Stiff Groundsel is growing from receiving continued natural flooding.

Liaise with land holders and Goulburn-Murray Water to ensure current irrigation schemes do not change in a way that would be detrimental to the species.

Keep records of salinity levels in the area and plant populations widely.

Responsibility:Parks Victoria / Natural Resources and Environment / CMA / GMW

Costs

2000

2001

2002

2003

2004

NRE/PV

$1500

$1500

$1500

$1500

$1500

ESP

$0

$0

$0

$0

$0

Total

$1500

$1500

$1500

$1500

$1500

Biodiversity benefits

Protection of a species of flora which was once more common.

An increased understanding of the vegetation community which supports Stiff Groundsel.

A local community focus on a nationally threatened species.


Implementation Schedule

NRE Flora and Fauna Planners in the North West Region will coordinate the implementation of action proposals and evaluate their effectiveness in achieving the conservation aims.

Liaison with local Parks Victoria, Field Naturalists, Shires and other NRE businesses will be important ongoing tasks for NRE Flora and Fauna Planners. Monitoring by local naturalists and schools will be encouraged via the Botanic Guardians Scheme.


References

ANZECC (1999). List of Australian Threatened Flora. Environment Australia, Biodiversity Group.

Briggs, J.D. & Leigh, J.H. (1995) Rare or Threatened Australian Plants. 1995 Revised edition. CSIRO Australia.

FIS (1999). Flora Information System. Viridans Biological Databases, Melbourne.

Foreman P. W. (1996). Unpublished field notes: Senecio behrianus.

SAC (1991) Final Recommendation on a nomination for listing: (Nomination No.). Scientific Advisory Committee, Flora and Fauna Guarantee, Dept. of Conservation & Environment, Victoria.

Schoknecht, N. and Foreman, P. (1992) Action Statement No. 12 Stiff Groundsel (Senecio behrianus). Dept. of Conservation & Environment, Victoria.

Document reference and availability details:

This document may be referred to as follows:

Alexander, J. K. (1999) Draft Recovery Plan - Stiff Groundsel (Senecio behrianus). Department of Natural Resources and Environment, Victoria. Unpublished Report.

Much of this document was extracted from the Action Statement for Stiff Groundsel (Senecio behrianus). (Schoknecht and Foreman 1992)

Copyright: The Director, Environment Australia, GPO Box 636, Canberra, ACT 2601.

Apart from fair dealing for the purposes of private study, research, criticism or review as permitted under the Copyright Act, no part may be reproduced by any means without permission of the Director, Environment Australia.

The preparation of this plan was funded by the Biodiversity Group, Environment Australia, Endangered Species Unit.