Prescribed burning benefits threatened mammals in northern Australia

Ian J. Radford, Leigh-Ann Woolley, Ben Corey, Tom Vigilante, Wunambal Gaambera Aboriginal Corporation, Ed Hatherley, Richard Fairman, Karin Carnes & Antony N. Start 

August 2020, Biodiversity and Conservation 29(7)
DOI: 10.1007/s10531-020-02010-9

Despite substantial investment in prescribed burning for biodiversity conservation there has been surprisingly little demonstration of its efficacy in achieving intended conservation aims for fauna. In the case of northern Australia’s threatened mammal fauna, most studies have reported negative responses to fire. We used satellite-derived fire scar imagery and small mammal survey data to compare fire regimes and threatened mammal abundance before and after implementation of broad-scale prescribed burning in north-western Australia. Specifically, we tested: (1) whether prescribed burning was effective in changing fire regimes; (2) whether all mammal species and functional groups responded to prescribed burning; and (3) what regional fire and environmental variables explained changes in mammal status…

Regional Assessment of the Conservation Status of Snubfin Dolphins (Orcaella heinsohni) in the Kimberley Region, Western Australia

Phil J. Bouchet, Deborah Thiele, Sarah A. Marley, Kelly Waples, Frank Weisenberger, Balanggarra Rangers, Bardi Jawi Rangers, Dambimangari Rangers, Nyamba Buru Yawuru Rangers, Nyul Nyul Rangers, Uunguu Rangers and Holly Raudino
Frontiers in Marine Science, 21 January 2021
Access the paper — DOI: 10.3389/fmars.2020.614852

Implementing conservation measures for data-limited species is a fundamental challenge for wildlife managers and policy-makers, and proves difficult for cryptic marine animals occurring in naturally low numbers across remote seascapes. There is currently scant information on the abundance and habitat preferences of Australian snubfin dolphins (Orcaella heinsohni) throughout much of their geographical range, and especially within the Kimberley region of northern Western Australia. Such knowledge gaps curtail rigorous threat assessments on both local and regional scales. To address this and assist future conservation listings, we built the first comprehensive catalog of snubfin dolphin sightings for the Kimberley. We used these data to estimate the species’ extent of occurrence (EOO) and area of occupancy (AOO) along the region’s 7,000 km coastline, following a simple Bootstrap bivariate kernel approach to combine datasets of varying quality and quantify uncertainty. Our catalog consists of 1,597 visual detections of snubfin dolphins made over a period of 17 years (2004–2020) and collated from multiple sources, including online biodiversity repositories, peer-reviewed scientific articles, citizen science programs, as well as dedicated marine wildlife surveys with local Indigenous communities and Ranger groups. Snubfin dolphins were consistently encountered in shallow waters (<21 m depth) close to (<15 km) freshwater inputs, with high detection rates in known hotspots (e.g., Roebuck Bay, Cygnet Bay) as well as in coastal habitats suspected to be suitable (e.g., Prince Regent River and surrounds, King Sound, Doubtful Bay, Napier Broome Bay and the upper Cambridge Gulf). Bootstrap estimates of EOO and AOO were 38,300 (95% CI: 25,451–42,437) km2 and 700 (656–736) km2 respectively, suggesting that snubfin dolphins in the Kimberley are likely Vulnerable under IUCN criteria B2 at a regional scale, in keeping with their global classification. Our study offers insights into the distribution of a vulnerable coastal cetacean species and demonstrates the value of integrating multiple data sources for informing conservation assessments in the face of uncertainty.

Small mammal diversity is higher in infrequently compared with frequently burnt rainforest–savanna mosaics in the north Kimberley, Australia

Stefania Ondei, Lynda D. Prior, Hugh W. McGregor, Angela M. Reid, Chris N. Johnson, Tom Vigilante, Catherine Goonack, Desmond Williams and David M. J. S. Bowman

27 November 2020 — Wildlife Research
Access the paper — DOI: 10.1071/WR20010

Populations of native mammals are declining at an alarming rate in many parts of tropical northern Australia. Fire regimes are considered a contributing factor, but this hypothesis is difficult to test because of the ubiquity of fire. This preliminary study investigated relative abundance and richness of small mammals on a gradient of fire regimes in the Uunguu Indigenous Protected Area (north Kimberley, Australia).

Distribution and abundance of large herbivores in a northern Australian tropical savanna: A multi‐scale approach

March 2020 — Austral Ecology
Angela M. Reid, Brett P. Murphy, Tom Vigilante, David M. J. S. Bowman

Australian mammals have exhibited exceptionally high rates of decline since European settlement 230 years ago with much focus on small mammals in northern tropical savannas. In these systems, little scientific attention has been given to the suite of grazing macropods, family Macropodidae, (common wallaroo (Osphranter robustus), antilopine wallaroo…

Access the paper – DOI: 10.1111/aec.12860

Carbon isotope analysis shows introduced bovines have broader dietary range than the largest native herbivores in an Australian tropical savanna: Dietary range of introduced and native herbivores

Angela M. Reid, Brett P. Murphy, Tom Vigilante, David M.J.S. Bowman
November 2019 — Austral Ecology
Access the paper — DOI:10.1111/aec.12834

Australian savannas lack native megaherbivores (>500 kg body mass), but since the commencement of European colonisation in the 19th century bovine livestock, such as cattle (Bos sp.) and water buffalo (Bubalus bubalis), have established large feral populations that continue to geographically expand. The largest extant native herbivores are marsupia…

Collaborative Research on the Ecology and Management of the ‘Wulo’ Monsoon Rainforest in Wunambal Gaambera Country, North Kimberley, Australia

Tom Vigilante, Stefania Ondei, Catherine Goonack, David M. J. S. Bowman
October 2017 — Land 6(4):68
Access the paper — DOI: 10.3390/land6040068

Indigenous groups are increasingly combining traditional ecological knowledge and Western scientific approaches to inform the management of their lands. We report the outcomes of a collaborative research project focused on key ecological questions associated with monsoon vine thickets in Wunambal Gaambera country (Kimberley region, Western Australia…

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