The legacy of the Threatened Species Recovery Hub

The Threatened Species Recovery Hub was a six-year collaboration to deliver research to support the recovery of Australia’s threatened species and ecological communities. The hub finished in 2021. 

We worked closely with around 250 on-ground partners across the country, including government agencies, national parks, conservation groups, Indigenous land managers, farmers and community groups to ensure research targeted our greatest challenges, was practical, and was placed into the hands of the groups who could use it to make a difference for threatened species. 

Our network included over 150 of Australia’s leading environmental scientists and almost 90 higher-degree research students. Collectively we delivered 147 research projects across the country. 

We were supported with funding from the Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Program matched with funding from 10 of Australia's leading universities and the Australian Wildlife Conservancy. 

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Time since fire influences macropod occurrence in a fire-prone coastal ecosystem

Knowledge of animal responses to fire is fundamental to wildlife management in fire-prone ecosystems. Fire can influence the occurrence of large herbivores by altering the structure and composition of vegetation. However, how fire affects herbivore occurrence in many ecosystems is poorly understood. Large herbivores may be attracted to burnt areas due to higher foraging quality. Conversely, herbivores may avoid burnt areas due to heightened predation risk. We tested the influence of vegetation type and fire history variables on the occurrence of macropods at Booderee National Park in south-eastern Australia. We documented macropod occurrence at 107 long-term monitoring sites using spotlighting surveys conducted between 2003 and 2019. We modelled relationships between the occurrence of the eastern grey kangaroo (Macropus giganteus) and the swamp wallaby (Wallabia bicolor) with three fire history variables; time since fire, fire frequency and burn context (the proportion of the area surrounding each site that was recently burnt), as well as their interaction with vegetation type. We found both macropod species selected recently burnt sites, likely due to a higher abundance of preferred plants at these sites. Increasing fire frequency was associated with a reduced occurrence of the eastern grey kangaroo. The occurrence of both macropod species was significantly higher in forest sites, possibly reflecting higher foraging quality of grass and shrub species compared to woodland, heathland and shrubland sites. We suggest that if fire is used as a management tool, it is important to recognise potential feedbacks from increased foraging pressure from large herbivores. Future fire management will need to avoid burning areas of sensitive vegetation if local herbivores display pyric herbivory responses, and/or avoid small-scale burns, which may concentrate foraging pressure.

The sum of small parts: changing landscape fire regimes across multiple small landholdings in north-western Australia with collaborative fire management

Fire is a natural process in tropical savannas, but contemporary cycles of recurrent, extensive, severe fires threaten biodiversity and other values. In northern Australia, prescribed burning to reduce wildfire incidence is incentivised through a regulated emissions abatement program. However, only certain vegetation types are eligible; also, managers of small land parcels are disadvantaged by the program’s transaction costs and interannual variability in management outcomes. Both impediments apply to landholders of the Dampier Peninsula, north-west Australia. Nevertheless, Indigenous rangers, pastoralists and other stakeholders have collaborated for 5 years to manage fire across their small holdings (300–2060 km2). We used remote sensing imagery to examine the project’s performance against seven fire regime targets related to biodiversity, cultural and pastoral values. At the scale both of individual landholders and the entire Peninsula (18 500 km2), the project significantly reduced the extent of annual fire, high-severity fire, mid-late dry season fire, fire frequency and severe fire frequency. The project significantly increased the graininess of burnt and unburnt areas and the extent unburnt for 3+ years more than tripled. The project demonstrates that cross-tenure collaboration can overcome the challenges of managing fire on small land parcels. However, this project’s sustainability depends on securing ongoing funding.

Use of citizen science datasets to test effects of grazing exclusion and replanting on Australian woodland birds

Around the world, woodlands have been cleared for agricultural production and their bird communities are in decline. To reverse these declines and foster bird community resilience, government agencies, non-government organizations, and private landholders have implemented restoration actions, commonly including grazing exclusion and replanting. These actions are rarely implemented in an experimental framework, making it difficult to measure their effectiveness. However, ecological monitoring datasets, and citizen science datasets in particular, can provide useful opportunities for measuring effects of restoration actions and act as a baseline upon which adaptive management can be built. We examined the effect of revegetation actions on the terrestrial bird community in Australia's south-eastern temperate woodlands using long-term, community-collected monitoring datasets. We explored the response of bird abundance, species richness, and a newly developed index of ecological community condition, to grazing exclusion and replanting over a 20-year period using an uneven control-impact study design. Grazing exclusion plus replanting had strong positive effects on all three bird community metrics, which increased with time, compared to control sites where neither action occurred. Bird abundance, but not species richness or community condition, increased over time with grazing exclusion alone, while control sites with continued grazing and no replanting showed no change in all three measures. We demonstrate that citizen science datasets with imperfect study designs can be used to gain insights on conservation action effectiveness and highlight the value of metrics that capture information about community condition more precisely than just abundance or species richness.