Article by Nicolle Arthur, student, University of the Sunshine Coast
Each year Sunshine Coast Council has the opportunity to host University of the Sunshine Coast work experience students to work in areas relevant to their career path. This year Nicolle Arthur joined us for 6 weeks in the natural areas team. Nicolle has a particular interest in ecological restoration, the science and the application. After a few weeks of fauna data entry, reviewing management plans and field trips, Nicolle has come to see how reserve management is essentially one large and complex ecological restoration project. Nicolle wrote this article as part of her placement.
The subtropical climate and diverse landforms of the Sunshine Coast make it a hotspot for biodiversity richness. A key project under council’s environment and liveability strategy is to protect, preserve and enhance our natural environment and wildlife corridors through the acquisition of land for habitat conservation and restoration. In 2018/19 council acquired an additional 56ha of land for conservation purposes with the environmental levy, adding to over 700 reserves council currently manages throughout the region, supporting a number of native plants and animals, including 142 rare and threatened species.
Around the world, humans have impacted the landscape in some form, therefore it is not unusual when council acquires conservation land, for it to be wholly or partly degraded, damaged or destroyed from past activities undertaken on (or nearby) the land. Council manages environment reserves pursuant to the environment reserves network management plan (2017-2027), which classifies reserves into one of five open space categories for the purpose of strategic management across a large and complex estate. Associated with this are the service levels which sets out time frames for management actions including ecological restoration, vegetation management, vegetation offsets, species protection, fire management and control of declared pests.
What is ecological restoration?
Ecological restoration is the process of assisting the recovery of pre-existing ecosystems that have been damaged or depleted by human impacts. Council conducts ecological restoration based on the South-east Queensland ecological restoration framework (2012).
South-east Queensland (SEQ) ecological restoration framework guidelines states a restored ecosystem:
- contains a characteristic assemblage of the species that occur in a reference ecosystem
- consists of indigenous local species to the greatest practicable extent
- contains all functional groups necessary for the continued development and/or stability of the restored ecosystem
- is capable of sustaining reproducing populations
- functions normally for its ecological stage of development
- is suitably integrated into a larger ecological landscape
- potential threats to the health and integrity of the restored ecosystem have been eliminated or reduced as much as possible
- is sufficiently resilient to endure normal periodic stress events in the local environment, and
- is self-sustaining to the same degree as a reference ecosystem.
(Chenoweth EPLA & Bushland Restoration Services 2012, p. 28)
The role of fauna in ecological restoration
Natural ecosystems are essential to humans and provide services such as clean water, food, medicinal products, recreational and spiritual values. These services are a result of a variety of ecosystem functions. In order to maintain ecosystem function and resilience, it is important to identify the functional diversity and response diversity of an ecosystem.
What is the difference between functional and response diversity?
The functional diversity of an ecosystem refers to the processes carried out by different species which influence the dynamics and functioning of an ecosystem, such as decomposers, pollinators and seed disperser. Whereas the response diversity of an ecosystem refers to the different responses to external pressures, like drought.
A natural safeguard against negative impacts caused by external pressures, is to have multiple species present within a given functional group, thereby lowering the risk of a specific ecosystem function being lost. For example, an external pressure may result in the widespread loss of certain species, while other species may be undeterred or even benefit from the impact. Accordingly, by increasing biodiversity, and particularly diversity within functional groups, safeguards and enhances the ability of an ecosystem to withstand external shocks.
Environmental management plans
When council develops an environmental management plan for a reserve area, it is therefore important to know what fauna currently exists on site, is likely to exist, or has the potential to occur following ecological restoration. Additionally, there may be some species interactions known to be at risk or potential risk, which will require targeted management (i.e. plants and pollinators or biocontrol by invertebrates). To ascertain this information, council engages external consultants to conduct regular fauna surveys across all reserves. During this process, a number of threatened species have been uncovered and despite their usually rare presence and subsequent low impact on the overall functioning of an ecosystem, it is important to maintain their existence – after extinction, not only is their decline irreversible, but their absence from the ecosystem could also trigger the decline/loss of other species as well as loss of ecosystem services. After fauna surveys are completed and all other necessary assessments of a site have been undertaken, certain measures can be implemented to maintain habitat and/or carry out ecological restoration.
SEQ ecological restoration framework guideline for managing habitat for native fauna:
- maintenance of existing habitat heterogeneity (i.e. the diversity of habitats occurring on site)
- selection of flora species that provide food resources for fauna (e.g. koala food trees, butterfly host species)
- selection of flora species that provide cover and habitat for fauna (e.g. dense, small-leaved shrub species for forest birds; reeds for frogs)
- provision of habitat fixtures into the restoration area (e.g. nest boxes for gliders, hollow logs on ground for reptiles)
- planting at densities that meet fauna movement/cover requirements (e.g. dense grasses for small mammal movement), and
- staged weed control in instances where weeds form a significant portion of fauna habitat or if erosion will become a problem.
(Chenoweth EPLA & Bushland Restoration Services 2012, p. 47)
Tuan environment reserve
The Tuan reserve is a 200ha site located in the Mary River catchment on Chinaman Creek Road in Cambroon. The name ‘Tuan’ is the common indigenous name for the brush-tailed phascogale, an iconic species found on the reserve. The site contains critically endangered lowland rainforest community and also provides essential habitat to a diversity of species including a number of threatened species currently present on site, such as the koala, black-breasted button quail, long-nosed potoroos and glossy black cockatoo.
As part of its management, council is in the process of doing ecological restoration to areas within the site that have been damaged from past clearing and grazing practices. A portion of the boundary adjoins the Maleny national park to the south. The site was acquired by council to support a broader plan to build a wildlife corridor that connects the Kondalilla national park to the Conondale national park – a great example of council’s commitment to protecting, preserving and enhancing our natural environment.
Over the past 6 weeks, I have been doing work experience with council as part of my undergraduate studies in environmental management at the Sunshine Coast University and I recently had the opportunity to join a site visit at Tuan. It was the first time I had been to that part of the Sunshine Coast and I was amazed by the beautiful landscape and array of bird and animal life I saw in the short-time I was there. Personally, I found Tuan to be very calming, peaceful and diverse and I didn’t want to leave the place. I highly recommend, if you haven’t already, to take a drive to the Mary River catchment and check out the area or alternatively, why not visit one of the many other environmental reserves around the Sunshine Coast.
Check out council’s environment levy land acquisition interactive map. To find out about the achievements made over the last financial year with the environmental levy, have a look at council’s environment levy annual report.
Building ecosystem services and resilience through ecological restoration
- Bello, F, Lavorel, S, Díaz, S, Harrington, R, Cornelissen, J, Bardgett, R, Berg, M, Cipriotti, P, Feld, C, Hering, D, Martins da Silva, P, Potts, S, Sandin, L, Sousa, J, Storkey, J, Wardle, D, & Harrison, P 2010, ‘Towards an assessment of multiple ecosystem processes and services via functional traits’ Biodiversity and Conservation, vol. 19, no. 10, pp. 2873–2893, doi: 10.1007/s10531-010-9850-9
- Chenoweth EPLA and Bushland Restoration Services (2012) South East Queensland Ecological Restoration Framework: Guideline. Prepared on behalf of SEQ Catchments and South East Queensland Local Governments, Brisbane
- Fischer, J, Lindenmayer, DB, & Manning, AD 2006, March, ‘Biodiversity, ecosystem function, and resilience: ten guiding principles for commodity production landscapes’ Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, Ecological Society of America, doi: 10.1890/1540-9295(2006)004[0080:BEFART]2.0.CO;2.