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News Article | May 29, 2017
Site: www.theguardian.com

Coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef last year was even worse than expected, while the full impact of the most recent event is yet to be determined. Queensland government officials say aerial and in-water surveys taken throughout 2016 had confirmed an escalating impact from north to south. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority chairman, Russell Reichelt, said the reef had experienced significant and widespread damage over the past two years. “The amount of coral that died from bleaching in 2016 is up from our original estimates and ... it’s expected we’ll also see an overall further coral cover decline by the end of 2017,” he said in a statement on Monday. Surveys by the Marine Park Authority, Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, Australian Institute of Marine Science and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies found the most severe bleaching north of Port Douglas. There, an estimated 70% of shallow water corals had died, with significant variability between and within reefs. It is now confirmed that about 29% of shallow water corals died from bleaching during 2016, up from the previous estimate of 22%, with most mortality occurring in the northern parts of the reef. Bleaching was also found in corals beyond depths divers typically survey, but mortality could not be systematically assessed. However, there was a strong recovery in the south in the absence of bleaching during the same period. Officials are predicting further coral loss this year, resulting from the second consecutive year of bleaching and the impacts of tropical Cyclone Debbie. Over the past few months bleaching occurred in a similar pattern to last year, most severely between Cairns and Townsville.


Goldingay R.L.,Southern Cross University of Australia | Taylor B.D.,Southern Cross University of Australia | Ball T.,Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service
Australian Mammalogy | Year: 2011

Gliding mammals may be susceptible to habitat fragmentation due to increased vulnerability to predators and road mortality if forced to cross roads and other canopy gaps on the ground. We document three trials where 6-12-m-high wooden poles, also known as glide poles, were installed to provide a link for gliding mammals across 50-75-m-wide canopy gaps, over open pasture or over roads. We used hair-traps over periods of 10-42 months to determine whether squirrel gliders (Petaurus norfolcensis) used the poles. Squirrel glider hair was detected on at least one pole during 69-100% of sampling sessions. At two road locations where poles were installed on wildlife land-bridges, hair was detected on poles in the middle of the bridge in 7-18 sessions, suggesting that complete crossings may have occurred. At one road location a camera-trap recorded a squirrel glider ascending a middle pole on five of 20 nights. Repeated use of the wooden poles by squirrel gliders at three locations suggests that tall wooden poles can restore habitat connectivity for a gliding mammal. We recommend further trials to extend our knowledge of the usefulness of this management tool for a range of gliding mammal species. © 2011 Australian Mammal Society.


News Article | November 7, 2016
Site: www.theguardian.com

Queensland’s environment minister has flagged concerns that the agency tasked with protecting the Great Barrier Reef is running as a “shell of its former self” amid the underfunding of a cornerstone program. Steven Miles called on the federal government to fast-track an extra $1.65m for the main “on-water” management program for the reef, which had seen no increase to its funding since 2008. This was despite the program, run by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority with the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, holding the key to almost a third of Australia’s 139-point action plan to conserve the threatened area, Miles said. Australia is due next month to lodge a progress report on its conservation plan with Unesco, which last year spared the reef an “in danger” listing by its world heritage committee. The Unesco ruling called on Australia last year to enact a long-term “investment framework” for reef conservation as “a matter of priority”. Miles said he had outlined his frustration about the lack of urgent commonwealth funding commitments in a letter to the federal environment minister, Josh Frydenberg. He also wrote to his previous counterpart Greg Hunt five months ago. He plans to confront Frydenberg over the funding issue at a meeting of the Great Barrier Reef standing committee of officials in Brisbane on Tuesday. “There is widespread concern that the [reef filed management program], which supports more than 100 state and commonwealth positions, is being starved of funds and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority is operating as a shell of its former self,” Miles said. The Australian Marine Conservation Society reef campaigner, Shannon Hurley, said the eight-year freeze on funding increases for a key reef program was “a disgrace” and highlighted the “need for a properly independent Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority”. The authority risked being left unable to deal with the challenges of coral bleaching, the impacts of climate change, poor water quality and industrialisation of the reef, Hurley said. “[Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority] was established to be the reef’s guardian. It is disappointing that at a time when the natural icon is under extreme pressure, the authority is forced to face funding shortfalls,” she said. “We think that GBRMPA has a critical role in protecting the Reef and keeping it off the world heritage ‘in danger’ list – but not without proper funding and proper independence.” Miles said joint state and commonwealth funding for the program had remained at $17m a year since 2008, leaving an “unacceptable shortfall” of $3.3m after rising costs and wages. The Queensland government has pledged an extra $1.65m to make up the shortfall but made that contingent on the commonwealth matching the funding. Miles appealed to the federal government to immediately commit to the funding rather than wait for the findings of an internal review into the field management program due next year. He said it was “the primary on-water program that conducts the day-to-day management of the reef to provide for best reef resilience, and is responsible for leading and supporting 39 of the 139 actions in the reef 2050 plan”. “Given the increasing visitation to the reef, continuing challenges with climate change, and specifically considering the latest (unpublished) results of survey of the worst coral bleaching episode on record which has seen greater than 50% mortality of inshore and mid-shelf reefs in far northern tracts, and the international focus of our reef efforts, an appropriately resourced field management program has never been such an important and urgent aspect in our response,” Miles said.


Baker A.M.,Queensland University of Technology | Mutton T.Y.,Queensland University of Technology | Hines H.B.,Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service | Van Dyck S.,Queensland Museum
Zootaxa | Year: 2014

We describe a new species of dasyurid marsupial within the genus Antechinus that was previously known as a northern outlier of Dusky Antechinus (A. swainsonii). The Black-tailed Antechinus, Antechinus arktos sp. nov., is known only from areas of high altitude and high rainfall on the Tweed Volcano caldera of far south-east Queensland and north-east New South Wales, Australia. Antechinus arktos formerly sheltered under the taxonomic umbrella of A. swainsonii mimetes, the widespread mainland form of Dusky Antechinus. With the benefit of genetic hindsight, some striking morphological dif-ferences are herein resolved: A. s. mimetes is more uniformly deep brown-black to grizzled grey-brown from head to rump, with brownish (clove brown-raw umber) hair on the upper surface of the hindfoot and tail, whereas A. arktos is more vibrantly coloured, with a marked change from greyish-brown head to orange-brown rump, fuscous black on the upper surface of the hindfoot and dense, short fur on the evenly black tail. Further, A. arktos has marked orange-brown fur on the upper and lower eyelid, cheek and in front of the ear and very long guard hairs all over the body; these characters are more subtle in A. s. mimetes. There are striking genetic differences between the two species: at mtDNA, A. s. mimetes from north-east New South Wales is 10% divergent to A. arktos from its type locality at Springbrook NP, Queensland. In con-trast, the Ebor A. s. mimetes clades closely with conspecifics from ACT and Victoria. A. arktos skulls are strikingly dif-ferent to all subspecies of A. swainsonii. A. arktos are markedly larger than A. s. mimetes and A. s. swainsonii (Tasmania) for a range of craniodental measures. Antechinus arktos were historically found at a few proximate mountainous sites in south-east Queensland, and have only recently been recorded from or near the type locality. Even there, the species is like-ly in low abundance. The Black-tailed Antechinus has plausibly been detrimentally affected by climate change in recent decades, and will be at further risk with increasing warming trends. © 2014 Magnolia Press.


Baker A.M.,Queensland University of Technology | Mutton T.Y.,Queensland University of Technology | Hines H.B.,Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service
Zootaxa | Year: 2013

Antechinus argentus sp. nov. is currently only known from the plateau at the eastern escarpment of Kroombit Tops Na-tional Park, about 400km NNW of Brisbane and 60km SSW of Gladstone, south-east Queensland, Australia. Antechinus flavipes (Waterhouse) is also known from Kroombit Tops NP, 4.5km W of the nearest known population of A. argentus; A. mysticus Baker, Mutton and Van Dyck has yet to be found within Kroombit Tops, but is known from museum specimens taken at Bulburin NP, just 40km ESE, as well as extant populations about 400km to both the south-east and north-west of Kroombit NP. A. argentus can be easily distinguished in the field, having an overall silvery/grey appearance with much paler silver feet and drabber deep greyish-olive rump than A. flavipes, which has distinctive yellow-orange toned feet, rump and tail-base; A. argentus fur is also less coarse than that of A. flavipes. A. argentus has a striking silver-grey head, neck and shoulders, with pale, slightly broken eye-rings, which distinguish it from A. mysticus which has a more subtle greyish-brown head, pale buff dabs of eyeliner and more colourful brownish-yellow rump. Features of the dentary can also be used for identification: A. argentus differs from A. flavipes in having smaller molar teeth, as well as a narrower and smaller skull and from A. mysticus in having on average a narrower snout, smaller skull and dentary lengths and small-er posterior palatal vacuities in the skull. A. argentus is strongly divergent genetically (at mtDNA) from both A. flavipes (9.0-11.2%) and A. mysticus (7.2-7.5%), and forms a very strongly supported clade to the exclusion of all other antechinus species, in both mtDNA and combined (mtDNA and nDNA) phylogenies inferred here. We are yet to make detailed sur-veys in search of A. argentus from forested areas to the immediate east and north of Kroombit Tops. However, A. mysticus has only been found at these sites in low densities in decades past and not at all in several recent trapping expeditions conducted by the authors. With similar habitat types in close geographic proximity, it is plausible that A. argentus may be found outside Kroombit. Nevertheless, it is striking that from a range of surveys conducted at Kroombit Tops in the last 15 years and intensive surveys by the authors in the last 3 years, totalling more than 5 080 trap nights, just 13 A. argentus have been captured from two sites less than 6 km apart. If this is even close to the true geographic extent of the species, it would possess one of the smallest distributions of an Australian mammal species. With several threats identified, we ten-tatively recommend that A. argentus be listed as Endangered, pending an exhaustive trapping survey of Kroombit and sur-rounds Copyright © 2013 Magnolia Press.


Gillespie G.R.,University of Melbourne | Scroggie M.P.,Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research | Roberts J.D.,University of Western Australia | Cogger H.G.,College Street Sydney | And 2 more authors.
Biological Conservation | Year: 2011

We evaluated the influence of uncertainty, based on variation in expert opinion, on assessment of conservation status of Australian amphibians. We examined relationships between different biological variables and inferred relative extinction risk, the influence of uncertainty on resulting ranks, and regional patterns of extinction risk and uncertainty. Our results were in general agreement with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources but also reveal apparent high extinction risks among some taxa that the IUCN did not classify in any threatened category. These differences were exaggerated when the most conservative status assessments were taken from variation in expert opinion. Our assessments of relative extinction risk were strongly dependent on basic demographic variables, particularly population size, geographic distribution of populations and age at first reproduction. We identified regional hotspots of high relative extinction risk and poor knowledge of amphibians, leading to high uncertainty about the conservation status of species from those areas. Regional clustering of species with high relative extinction risk and high uncertainty may indicate higher levels of relative extinction risk than previously assessed. Our results highlight the influence of uncertainty on interpretation of conservation assessments of organism groups with large knowledge gaps. Uncertainty should be further incorporated into conservation planning as it not only highlights taxa with potentially underestimated extinction risk, but also facilitates identification of knowledge gaps informative of conservation status. Knowledge of regional patterns of extinction risk and uncertainty assists conservation planning through identification of regions of high extinction risk and/or large knowledge gaps. © 2011 Elsevier Ltd.


Williams P.R.,James Cook University | Williams P.R.,Vegetation Management Science Pty Ltd. | Parsons M.,Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service | Jensen R.,Australian Wildlife Conservancy | Tran C.,Serco
Austral Ecology | Year: 2012

The role of fire in governing rainforest-eucalypt forest ecotone dynamics is of theoretical interest and has conservation management implications. Several eucalypt forests in the Wet Tropics of Australia have an endangered status due to extensive conversion to rainforest. Rainforest plants are known to survive occasional low intensity fires in the eucalypt forest ecotone. However, the ability of rainforest plants to survive frequent fires remains untested. The timing of rainforest expansion is also a subject of interest, and is generally considered to be delayed until fire has been absent for several years. We used 14years of data collected across 13 plots in the Wet Tropics of north-eastern Australia to test predictions regarding rainforest seedling recruitment and post-fire regenerative capacity. The 13 plots received different numbers of fires, between zero and five, over the 14-year study. The recruitment of new rainforest plants in the ecotone was most abundant in the initial year after fire. If this post-fire pulse of recruitment is left undisturbed, it can facilitate the subsequent germination of additional rainforest species. The removal of grass cover, whether temporarily in the immediate post-fire environment or once a developing rainforest mid strata shades out grasses, appears crucial to abundant rainforest recruitment. A variety of tropical rainforest species can persist under a frequent fire regime through resprouting. The difference in the mode of resprouting, between ground-level coppicing rainforest plants and canopy resprouting eucalypt forest trees, is the critical mechanism that causes regular fire to maintain an open structure in eucalypt forests. The inability of rainforest species to maintain their height when fires fully scorch their crowns, temporarily resets the forest's open structure and delays the rainforest's ability to dominate through shading out grasses to transform the ecosystem into a closed forest. © 2011 The Authors. Journal compilation © 2011 Ecological Society of Australia.


News Article | October 25, 2016
Site: www.theguardian.com

The elusive night parrot has been recorded in Diamantina national park in central-west Queensland, expanding its known range and leading scientists to believe it may not be as rare as previously thought. The bird, described by Bush Heritage Australia’s Jim Radford as a “dumpy budgerigar” or a “podgy, sort of smallish, green and yellow parrot”, was thought to be extinct for more than 100 years before ornithologist John Young managed to photograph it in 2013. That discovery was made on an area of reclaimed pastoral lease now known as Pullen Pullen nature reserve. This month, another team of researchers from the Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) and the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, led by Young, announced they had found what they believe to be a larger population of night parrots in the nearby national park. The birds were discovered as part of a broader survey of threatened species in the park. Researchers made seven records of the bird this year: four sightings, three of which included nests with eggs, and three recorded calls. “My immediate reaction was excitement – this is great, there are more birds out there than we thought,” Atticus Fleming, chief executive of AWC told Guardian Australia. “But when you start to analyse it, the really significant thing about this is that these birds may be more common than we thought. That is something that we will be developing in the next few years as the study extends into other areas.” The parrots were discovered in an area of the park bordered by the Diamantina and Mayne rivers. The Queensland government has declared that area a restricted access zone with hefty fines for unauthorised access to deter poachers or enthusiastic twitchers from seeking out the rare parrots. The same penalties apply for entering Pullen Pullen, which is owned and managed by Bush Heritage Australia. Radford, BHA’s head of science and research, listed poachers as one of the significant threats faced by the parrot, particularly now researches have reported spotting eggs in both Pullen Pullen and Diamantina. Other threats include cattle, feral cats and potential habitat destruction from bushfires, which destroy the tall spinifex clumps where night parrots make their nests. There are other dangers that go along with being a largely ground-dwelling parrot. In April researchers from BHA discovered eggs in a night parrot nest after heavy rain, only to return later and find shell fragments containing traces of what proved to be the DNA of a brown snake. “Which is an interesting discovery in and of itself because we didn’t realise that brown snakes would predate on eggs,” Radford said. It was an unfortunate loss but not a significant one. Unprecedented rainfall has pompted a breeding frenzy in the arid plains of central-west Queensland, and Radford said he expected that pair would breed again. “All indications are that it will be a very good year, not just for night parrots but for other birds,” he said. The night parrot is one of just two fully nocturnal bird species in the world. The other is New Zealand’s kakapo, famous for being the world’s heaviest parrot and for being particularly enamoured with zoologist Mark Carwardine. Scientists are now making a concerted effort to study the bird, a process made difficult by its nocturnal habits and the sparseness with which it is spread across a remote landscape. Like Fleming, Radford said the discovery of more birds at Diamantina was “not unexpected” but was significant for the hope it gave researchers that small populations of the birds may be tucked away in other areas of the remote desert. “I fully expect that they will be discovered in other places in Australia in time as well, because I don’t think that this can be the only population,” he said.


Campbell H.A.,University of Queensland | Watts M.E.,University of Queensland | Sullivan S.,Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service | Read M.A.,Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service | And 3 more authors.
Journal of Animal Ecology | Year: 2010

1. The estuarine crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) is the world's largest living reptile. It predominately inhabits freshwater and estuarine habitats, but widespread geographic distribution throughout oceanic islands of the South-east Pacific suggests that individuals undertake sizeable ocean voyages. 2. Here we show that adult C. porosus adopt behavioural strategies to utilise surface water currents during long-distance travel, enabling them to move quickly and efficiently over considerable distances. 3. We used acoustic telemetry to monitor crocodile movement throughout 63 km of river, and found that when individuals engaged in a long-distance, constant direction journey (>10 km day -1), they would only travel when current flow direction was favourable. Depth and temperature measurements from implanted transmitters showed that they remained at the water surface during travel but would dive to the river substratum or climb out on the river bank if current flow direction became unfavourable. 4. Satellite positional fixes from tagged crocodiles engaged in ocean travel were overlaid with residual surface current (RSC) estimates. The data showed a strong correlation existed between the bearing of the RSC and that of the travelling crocodile (r 2 = 0Æ92, P < 0Æ0001). 5. The study demonstrates that C. porosus dramatically increase their travel potential by riding surface currents, providing an effective dispersal strategy for this species.


Melville J.,Museum Victoria | Smith K.,Museum Victoria | Hobson R.,Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service | Hunjan S.,Museum Victoria | Shoo L.,University of Queensland
PLoS ONE | Year: 2014

Molecular phylogenetics is increasingly highlighting the prevalence of cryptic species, where morphologically similar organisms have long independent evolutionary histories. When such cryptic species are known to be declining in numbers and are at risk of extinction due to a range of threatening processes, the disjunction between molecular systematics research and conservation policy becomes a significant problem. We investigate the taxonomic status of Tympanocryptis populations in Queensland, which have previously been assigned to T. tetraporophora, using three species delimitation approaches. The taxonomic uncertainties in this species-group are of particular importance in the Darling Downs Earless Dragon (T. cf. tetraporophora), which is ranked as an endangered 'species' of high priority for conservation by the Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection. We undertook a morphological study, integrated with a comprehensive genetic study and species delimitation analyses, to investigate the species status of populations in the region. Phylogenetic analyses of two gene regions (mtDNA: ND2; nuclear: RAG1) revealed high levels of genetic divergence between populations, indicating isolation over long evolutionary time frames, and strongly supporting two independent evolutionary lineages in southeastern Queensland, from the Darling Downs, and a third in the Gulf Region of northern Queensland. Of the three species delimitation protocols used, we found integrative taxonomy the most applicable to this cryptic species complex. Our study demonstrates the utility of integrative taxonomy as a species delimitation approach in cryptic complexes of species with conservation significance, where limited numbers of specimens are available. © 2014 Melville et al.

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