Until a few years ago hardly anyone had heard of the yellow chat on the Kakadu floodplains. National Park staff had so many other species to worry about
and none of the local birdwatchers took a special interest in it. At least this is what Gill Ainsworth found during her PhD on the social value of
Australia’s threatened birds.
When artist Chips Mackinolty heard Gill’s story, he wondered how he could help raise the bird’s profile. After discussions with Gill, Chips unveiled his contribution to the chat’s conservation at the opening of an exhibition on birds and art at Charles Darwin University.
The metre-square print, based on a photo of a male chat by local birdwatcher Micha Jackson, will be sold to support Indigenous involvement in chat research and to purchase tracking devices.
Chips was not the only person to listen to Gill’s appeals. Others were becoming aware of the scarcity of chats which, by 2014, were known reliably from only one site supporting 27 birds. As a result, the chats were among the 20 highest priority birds listed in the National Threatened Species Strategy and NESP funds are being deployed to support new PhD student Robin Leppitt.
“The Alligator Rivers Yellow Chat is critically understudied, despite the fact it was listed as endangered more than a decade ago,” says Robin.
“Through extensive survey and study, I plan to greatly increase the ecological knowledge of the subspecies to aid in its ongoing conservation.”
The park is also taking great interest in the birds and has been offering Robin assistance to begin his research.
A key component to the work will be Indigenous management of the floodplains. One theory is that a lack of traditional burning has reduced the patchiness of the grasslands so big areas are now covered by only a few plant species. An early part of the work will be discussions with traditional owners of how best to manage the chat’s habitat.
Other elements of the research will be surveys to find more birds and understand more fully their ecological requirements and studies to see how feral pigs affect the chat’s habitat.
Photo: The endangered Yellow Chat print (on display in Palmero, Italy) by Chips Mackinolty
Many landscapes in Australia are fire-prone, and increasingly so. Altered fire regimes can have a serious negative impact on threatened plant species and ecological communities. A Threatened Species Recovery Hub project is working to better understand the effects of different fire regimes on threatened flora in order to improve fire management strategies and conservation outcomes.
Almost a quarter of Australia’s possums and gliders are listed as threatened under Australian environmental law, and many more are showing signs of decline. Dr Rochelle Steven from The University of Queensland believes people in the community can do a lot to support conservation, especially in urban areas.
The detection and monitoring of threatened species have been a strong area of research in the National Environmental Science Program and also the two national environmental research programs which preceded it. Hub Director Professor Brendan Wintle takes a look at what we’ve been achieving and why it is so important to the conservation of Australia’s threatened species.
In 2009, the Christmas Island blue-tailed skink and Lister’s gecko were headed for imminent extinction. Parks Australia acted quickly to collect remaining wild individuals in order to establish captive breeding programs on Christmas Island and at Taronga Zoo, Sydney, which have been highly successful. A Threatened Species Recovery Hub project team is working closely with Parks Australia to help secure a future for the two lizards beyond captivity.
The silver-headed antechinus and black-tailed dusky antechinus are carnivorous marsupials found in high-elevation forests in parts of central-eastern and south-eastern Queensland. They were only described in the past six years, but they are already listed as Endangered. Knowing where they occur is essential for effective conservation, but current distribution knowledge is patchy. To address this, PhD candidate Stephane Batista in partnership with the Queensland Herbarium and Queensland Department of Environment and Science is modelling the habitat where these threatened species are likely to occur, and is using detection dogs to rapidly survey these sites.