Previous meetings: 2017 to present

11 February 2020 - A brief discussion of the “Known Knowns, Unknown Knowns and Unknown Unknowns” of African Lovegrass

Dr Lachlan Ingram is a Senior Lecturer in Sustainable Grassland Management at the University of Sydney. He gave the Sutton Landcare Presentation on 11 February.

"African Lovegrass is a complex system of 7 species according to taxonomists," he started, "but we usually only identify two". They are a deep-rooted plant; roots can go to 4 meters deep and grow to a meter wide laterally. They are drought-proof and very successful, which is why they were Introduced In Australia to stabilise roadsides. African Lovegrass (ALG) is a C4 grass, which means it is most active in spring and summer. Most native grasses are also C4 grasses, which means it is very difficult to spray for just ALG. As it needs little water or nutrients, it is well-adapted to Australian circumstances. It has been declared a weed because it outcompetes everything else, as soon as there is a bare spot, it will flourish. With its high seed content, it spreads rapidly and far, sticking to tyres, mower blades and other means of transport. ALG starts to grow about two weeks before native grasses, so it encroaches on space for native species before they start. It simply spreads better than native seed. It is not a good stockfeed as it has a low nutritional value, except briefly when young. Cattle will survive on it, but it will not grow much, nor get fattened. It is unlikely that a biological control will be developed as ALG is closely related to about 18 native species.

How do you prevent the spread of ALG?
* Maintain ground cover, avoid overgrazing
* Avoid disturbance of the soil; if you can't avoid disturbance, grow perennial crops in the disturbed areas
* Maintain a healthy grass system
* Don't burn- it gives ALG a head start
* Be vigilant, learn to identify and eradicate, preferably before it seeds.

"It looks like African Lovegrass is here to stay", Lachlan said, "but learn to identify it early and control it where you can."

8 October 2019 - Irrigation, water, soil nutrients and salt

On 8 October Dr Richard Stirzaker from the CSIRO gave a very engaging presentation on the importance of measuring soil moisture so you only irrigate when needed.

Over the past 50 years the world has trebled its food production and irrigation has become much more important. One in five hectares of cultivated land used for food production is being irrigated and that provides almost half of the world’s food.

As we know, water is a limited resource and 1. We need to use what we have well to grow high-value crops; 2. All water used needs to go through the plant, without being lost along the way. With modernisation to irrigation, in particular in Australia, water use is becoming more efficient; 3. Irrigators need to know exactly when to turn taps on and off for optimal growth/ production.

When you realise that it takes something like 1 litre of water to grow one calorie of food, the need to know how often we need to irrigate, and how much water is needed, becomes even more important.

As there are 40,000 irrigators in Australia alone, that means we need to know the soil moisture. Together with the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), Dr Stirzaker and his team have developed a set of low cost soil moisture sensors, linked to mobile phones, which are being used in a number of African countries.

Sensors are put in the soil on different levels and give farmers real-time information via different colours on the soil moisture sensor that indicate the moisture content of the soil. Red for dry, green for moist and blue for wet soil. This information provides patterns of soil moisture per plot of land, and farmers can determine if their soil has been too wet (leaching nutrients away), or too dry thus reducing yield. All data from every sensor currently active in Africa are transferred to a database in Canberra

It is the intention that the system will be used one day in Australia as well, but it has not yet been promoted and on top of that the CSIRO team has no time at the moment to expand the program too much.

If you are interested in this gadget for your own garden, the sensors can be bought on the VIA website. More information can be found on the http://ACIAR.gov.au website, or on the VIA website https://via.farm/.

13 August 2019 - Protected and productive Environments: National Landcare Program

On 13 August, Vanessa Whelan and Sue Bestow will come and talk with Sutton Landcare about the National Landcare program. They both work for the Australian Government for the Department of the Environment and Water resources and, together with their colleagues, they are delivering the $1billion National Landcare Program (NLP). Their talk at the Sutton Landcare Group titled ‘Protected and Productive Environments’ will focus on the agricultural component of the NLP. They will present some background information on the program, looking at Landcare’s journey so far, what it has achieved and what this next phase of the program is looking to deliver. They will discuss the two main elements of the NLP, the Regional Land Partnerships component, which is delivered through a network of 54 Management Units nationally and the Smart Farms component, which is currently supporting over 200 projects Australia wide, and there are more to come. Their talk will also give examples of Landcare work being done locally and other work that is relevant to the Sutton area.

11 June 2019 - Weeds: what can we do?

On 11 June the Sutton Landcare Group was joined by Brett Lees, the new biosecurity officer for the Yass Valley Council. We were pleased that he came to talk with us, as it has been 5 years since the Council last employed a weeds or biosecurity officer.

Brett told us that his job is very broad, ranging from weed inspections on private land to developing policies on weed management with colleagues at the council. Until a few years ago all weed management was outsourced, and since that stopped, the Yass Valley Council has had to employ their own weed officers again. The changes in the biosecurity legislation made the councils responsible for all weed management, similar to private landholders, with the same legal obligations. The councils are now considered to be landholders for all public lands.

One of the problems Brett faces, is that it is his responsibility that private landholders comply with biosecurity legislation, while all road verges and public parks are the responsibility of YVC Engineering. They need to keep road verges mown and spray for weeds, but don’t necessarily have the knowledge to recognise dangerous invasives nor a holistic approach to reseeding bare ground with proper ground cover to prevent new weeds colonising.

Brett said he is happy to come and inspect people’s properties and to help them identify weeds.

After some discussion the group decided that Sutton Landcare will need to take action itself if we want to ensure that weeds like African Lovegrass, serrated tussock and St John’s Wort don’t take over our roadsides, and subsequently our gardens and paddocks. Sutton Landcare and the SDCAI will begin with a letter to Council about weed management, in particular the issue of rapidly expanding African Lovegrass in the village. If you’d like to know more, please contact Sutton Landcare via Sutton.landcare at gmail.com

9 April 2019 - Citizen Science in Action in our Area - How you too can contribute to the Canberra Nature map

Sutton Landcare Group will again meet at Sutton Public School on Tuesday 9 April 2019 at 7.30pm. Our guest speaker will be Dr Michael Mulvaney, who will provide an overview and update of the Canberra Nature Map (CNM). ‘In my other life I provide biodiversity advice to the ACT Government. Canberra Nature Map and the sightings that you all are generously recording is making my job easier and focusing conservation protection and management where it needs to be.’ Michael Mulvaney, CNM. Michael will talk about the beginnings of CNM when founder Aaron Clausen clumsily rode his mountain bike straight over of one of the last remaining colonies of the critically endangered Canberra Spider Orchid. Aaron then approached Michael to consider his citizen science idea. This was the beginning of the Canberra Nature Map. The building of CNM is a remarkable feat of cooperative effort, given the number of people involved, the volume of photos and other data, and the number of species it caters for. Membership is growing quickly. Currently there are about1900 members and 80 moderators. The number of people using the website continues to grow as well. As citizen science in action, it shows the value of a volunteer local website run by local people with local knowledge as part of a strong interactive community. From its very simple beginnings CNM has become a highly sophisticated and valuable wildlife mapping website and is a leader in this field. CNM now map the location and abundance of most types of wildlife in the Canberra region, in a way that is useful to science and researchers as well as easy and enjoyable for members. This is CNM’s basic purpose.

12 February 2019 - AGM and Wild Native birds of the Sutton District presentation

The wild native birds of the Sutton district: species, trends, conservation, data capture & information resources On 12 February 2019 at 8 PM David McDonald, a keen birder based in Wamboin, and an active member of the Geary’s Gap/Wamboin Landcare Group, will talk to us about native birds in our region. He has done regular bird counts in the Sutton Common’s area. His presentation will focus on the wild native birds of Sutton and its surrounding district. What birds do we have here? Are any of them special? What trends are we observing: perhaps some species are increasing in abundance while others are disappearing? What do you do, and what can we do as a community, to make the Sutton district a better place for birds and birding? And what about your bird observations? Do they remain in your head or in notebooks seen only by you, or are you a citizen scientist, sharing your data with the birding and ornithological communities so as to contribute to conservation science? What are the best ways of sharing your observations? David, and our skilled Landcare members, will also try to answer any tricky questions that you may have about bird identification, based on your visual observations and the birds' calls.

4 December 2018 - Sutton Landcare Xmas Party

Over 30 members of the Sutton Landcare Group celebrated the end of the year at the Vincents’ property, with yummy wood-fired pizza, focaccia and french bread freshly baked by Pascal and his French friend David. Our landcare group has been fortunate to have Pascal’s culinary baking in several xmas parties now, which in traditional form was complemented by a huge array of delicious home-made salads and desserts contributed by members (and David V’s infamous fruit punch with fresh flowers from the garden).

At the twilight end of year celebration, the Sutton Landcare president, Arnold, summarised the events that the group has successfully completed for this year. Besides a diverse range of interesting talks, of particular note is November's native grasses and weeds walk around Sutton Village, which unexpectedly managed to attract a large crowd of 40 people. We also brainstormed ideas for talks/events to host for 2019 as group.

It was also announced that Christine Pahlman was the groups Yass Area Network Landcarer Volunteer for 2018. Christine is a long-standing and highly active member of Sutton Landcare. She has a strong background in, and understanding of environmental issues, and is passionate about ways to improve environmental sustainability. Christine has made a substantial contribution to the smooth operation of Sutton Landcare serving as a committee member and treasurer for the past 8 years. The task of treasurer is not always visible but is a core role in the smooth running of a Landcare group!

Thank you to the hosts Jane and David Vincent, and to the bakers Pascal and David for having us all in another successful Sutton Landcare Group xmas party!

4 November 2018 - Native grasses & weeds walk, Sutton Village

On Sunday 4 November 2018, about 40 people gathered for a weed walk starting at the waterwise garden and heading up to Sutton Common. Weed experts Alison Elvin and Jane Vincent were our guides. The wide range of grasses and weeds identified by our guides in such a short distance was amazing. Though we expected to only find exotic species, we were happy to discover that even on that short walk our guides were able to identify a series of native plants as well. A small sample follows:

Weeds: Serrated Tussock: releases 90% of its stems with seeds, it can create a 30-year seed bank.

African Love Grass: characteristics include curly dry ends of leaves, black seeds and blueish colour­ed leaves.

St John’s Wort: dislikes phos­phorous. Is being combated by chrysalina beetle and a mite. St John’s Wort is high in alka­loids when in seed (up to 50 times higher in alkaloids) making it toxic to stock. It makes stock highly photo-sensitive – it can cause fair-skinned stock to blister. However St John’s Wort is good food for stock in winter. So if you need to spray it, do so in spring before it seeds.

Cape Weed: Cape Weed occurs in many areas with bare soil. When eaten in high concentrations it can cause scouring in sheep. Nitrate poisoning can occur when starved and stressed animals graze high volumes of capeweed.

Barley Grass: is short, flowers in November and is an annual plant. It needs to be grazed by stock before it seeds. The long barbed awns on the seed heads can cause substantial injury to young livestock.

Catsear: (or flatweed) is toxic to horses when eaten over a length of time.

Corkscrew Grass: can be distinguished from Chilean Needle Grass as Cork Screw Grass is light green at seed stem and Chilean Needle Grass is red at seed stem.

Native grasses and forbs: All native lovegrasses have an “awn” that twists the seed into the ground when moist for the first time.

Windmill grass is a C4 grass - e.g. Kangaroo Grass and Windmill Grass are summer active and dormant in winter, whereas C3 grasses are winter active and dormant in summer. - e.g. Wallaby Grass, There are five species of Wallaby Grass in this region, it has high protein contents and is very digestible by stock. Wheat grass is rare in this area, but is very good for grazing.

Stipa are Feather, Needle and Spear grasses. They are autumn and winter active grasses and in general, are highly palatable. They can be native as well as exotic.

Native forbs seen included Goodenea (~scrambled egg plants) with small yellow flowers with five petals, and Velleia with bright yellow flowers. Also Australian bindweed (pretty pink funnel shaped flattish disk).

Other introduced species: Shivery Grass and Winter Grass is brown in November, has low silica content, is exotic but not a problem. Plantain is part of a paddock mix and is a perennial herb. Pimpernel has tiny orange flowers but is not a problem.

Take home message: 1) Groundcover is key: avoid bare soil at all costs if you want to prevent weeds taking hold. 2) If biological control is working we need to keep tiny amounts of the weeds to keep a reserve of the biological control insects for when the next growth spurt of the weeds occurs.

All in all, a very useful and interesting morning, with a lot of questions, and a lot of answers from two wonderful experts. The walk was followed by morning tea, with Gay McNeill’s now famous scones.

If you are interested to learn more, contact Sutton Landcare through our email: Sutton.landcare@gmail.com

9 October 2018 - "So, what do you actually do at council?" The role of the National Resource and Sustainability Manager

On 9 October, Rebecca Widdows from the Yass Valley Council presented to us on the policies and approaches the Yass Valley Council has with regard to Natural Resource Management and Sustainability. “My role is wide and varied, which means it is always interesting,” she said. “But people often ask, what does your role actually cover?” At the meeting she presented a brief overview of the major projects/activity areas she is working on (part-time) at Yass Valley Council relevant to Landcare, including:

  • 1. Biodiversity and Native Vegetation Reform: Council now has similar responsibilities to private landholders, which means that they are subject to best practice and stewardship obligations. An example is that they have to consider the impact for clearing of land for council purposes.
  • 2. Weeds: Rebecca had good news for us. YVC is currently appointing biosecurity officers to take active responsibility back to YVC for matters such as weeds-related services. This will result in the writing of local weed control plans – something many Sutton land owners will appreciate as weeds are clearly invading everywhere.
  • 3. Aboriginal Cultural Heritage: Rebecca is a heritage advisor. She provides due diligence wherever aboriginal cultural heritage is involved. She organises funding for interpretative displays and for fencing out aboriginal cultural heritage sites.
  • 4. Crown Lands: YVC is only responsible for council-managed crown lands (thus not Sutton Crown lands as they are privately leased or state-managed-from the Goulburn Offices). YVC needs a native title manager. New federal legislation on native title is due out soon.
  • 5. Reducing waste: YVC is on a mission to reduce waste so less goes to landfill, ideas are welcome and hands-on grants are available. YVC already has plans to work with SDCAI on preparing for recycling in Sutton village in February 2019. Scope includes refuse (single use plastics etc), reuse (mend and make do), recycle and as last resort, dispose responsibly.
  • 6. Catchment and water health: Rebecca discussed a range of issues such as preparing an annual catchment health report, actively supporting Water Watch. She is part of the upper Murrumbidgee Catchment Committee. She also works on erosion control measures.
  • 7. She also provides general National Resource Management (NRM) advice which can be wide, varied and unpredictable.
These points above are only a selection of the tasks she undertakes at YVC, but it does show how dedicated she is and we are delighted to have someone as motivated as Rebecca as liaison point on all these topics.

10 August 2018 - AGM and presentation on innovations around assessing fuel loads and flammability of urban fringes

Following the 2018 AGM, Dr Marta Yebra, from the ANU Fenner School of Environment and Society, spoke about fuel loads in a peri-urban environment, and how remote sensing can help. Dr Yebra gave a demonstration of the Australian Flammability Monitoring System (AFMS) web explorer (http://wenfo.org/afms) which provides easy and fast access to spatial information on live fuel and soil moisture and flammability. She also showed present maps on fuel loads and structures derived from LiDAR for the ACT. The overarching objective of AFMS is to assist users with better resource allocation in fire protection and response, and improved awareness of fire hazards to people and property.

13 February 2018 - Landcare aspects of proposed Springdale Solar Farm (on Tallagandra Lane)

The Sutton Landcare Group (SLG) has been invited by Renew Estate to consider Landcare aspects of the proposed Springdale Solar farm. SLG invited Renew Estate to present on these Landcare aspects at the 1st SLG 2018 meeting to be followed by a discussion.

The presentation by Renew Estate will focus on the information required for the Environmental Impact Assessment such as biodiversity, flooding and hydrology, aboriginal heritage and other environmental issues.

Most relevant to SLG is the plan for planting native trees and shrubs as a screening corridor and SLG has been invited to propose relevant species. The list of currently-planned species can be discussed at the Landcare meeting.

Note: SLG does not endorse or oppose what private landowners do. This meeting is, therefore, not a community consultation - its focus is on the Landcare aspects of this proposed development. More information on the proposed Solar farm can be found at: https://www.springdalesolarfarm.com.au.

As you can see the Sutton Landcare Group focuses on learning about our environment and sharing information. We meet every second month, on the second Tuesday at the Sutton School and each meeting is followed by supper where we talk and have an opportunity to ask our speakers some more questions.

Click here for more details.

10 October 2017 - Brad Opdyke: The new Lake George core: evidence for changing Climate and uplift of the Lake George escarpment over the past 2 million years.

Lake George is bounded by hills on the west, north and east side. The north side (towards Sydney) is about 37 to 38 m above sea-level. The east side is higher. The west side with Geary’s gap and the escarpment is an active fault (a thrust fault) where the west is pushing towards the east and overriding the Lake George- part of the earth’s crust. Geary’s Gap is the lowest part in the west and is about 36 m above the current lake bed.

A detailed digital elevation model (using Laser from an aircraft (LIDAR) of the entire area allows modelling of the Lake George Basin. It appears that the lake could (given 3 of years of rainfall of around 1000 mm p.a.) fill up to 6 m depth just reaching the Federal Highway, or with 10’s of such years of rainfall rise 36 m to start flowing over Geary’s Gap, as it has done in the geological past several times it appears.

According to the ANU research of borehole cores recovered from the lake bed in the last year, this happened several times in the past 10’s of millions of years due to a combination of factors: sustained high annual rainfall and a speeding up and slowing down of the rise of the escarpment due to the tectonic activity of the thrust fault. Over the last 22 million years 3 to 4 active periods of the escarpment rising occurred, interspaced with calmer periods where lake sedimentation and erosion of the spillway through Geary’s Gap caused the lake to become a braided river or , in periods of global glaciation (or ice ages) a very dry , frost prone lake bed with fine sands being blown around. The glacial periods of the last 10’s of million years are all interspersed with warm, wetter inter-glacials such as the one we are now in (called the Holocene).

By combining multiple lines of scientific evidence the ANU team have determined that in the inter-glacials high sustained rainfall is definitely possible and that our current climate settings could lead to high drenching summer rains (caused by tropical lows coming to Lake George from the north-west and north-east). Their calculations have shown Ten to thirty years of in excess of 1000 mm p.a. rainfall could flood the lake to reach Geary’s gap at 36 m. That would present a real problem for those living below that level in and around Bungendore. Although global climate models predict increased risk of winter and spring rain deficits they do not preclude high summer rainfall events.

All in all Lake George is a fascinating lake that can be on fire during droughts and submerse Bungendore in longer term drenching rains.

8 August 2017 – Reintroduction of animals into the Mulligans Flat Wildlife Sanctuary

Dr Will Batson, recently-appointed Sanctuary Manager of the Mulligans Flat Woodland Sanctuary was our guest speaker. Some points raised were:

The Sanctuary is governed by ACT Govt (asset management), ANU (research), and Woodlands and Wetlands Trust (community engagement)

Many threats to box-gum woodland – clearing, predators, land treatment (eg. over-fertilization)

Impacts – start losing species, first the small ones (eg. potoroos, bettongs). Hooded Robin – one seen recently, first since about 1990.

Sanctuary aim: Debate on what to aim for – restore to pre-European state, pre-Aboriginal, or even Gondwana state? Need to be aware of the danger of de-evolution.

Expanded sanctuary – adding 1000 ha, site of a large new decade-long experiment. Existing and new sanctuary areas will be separated by fences short-term. Fence will be very close to the suburb of Throsby (to allow studies of urban influence). The overall aim is how to restore natural populations (inside and outside the Sanctuary), and to establish benchmarks to gauge success etc.

There has already been some systematic burning. 20,000 tons of dead wood has been introduced. Population aims – exclude all cats, dogs and foxes. Manipulate the kangaroo population (ideally 0.1 kangaroos per Ha inside and 1 kangaroo per Ha outside the Sanctuary environment. Next step then is to introduce new species and observe their effect on the environment eg. Introducing bettongs, quolls and New Holland mice.

Examples:

BROWN TREE CREEPER – in 2009, introduced 43 birds plus some dead wood for nesting. By 2000, no breeding and only 15% remaining. By 2001, all gone – flown over the fence and eaten. Lesson to be learnt – perhaps not enough nesting logs, and over-stress by the presence of many Myna birds.

BUSH-STONE CURLEWS – introduction trial run by Canberra Ornithologists Group (COG). Initially 11 birds introduced, 3 months later only 3 remaining (the ones that did not fly over the fence and be eaten by foxes). Next year, 8 more were raised in a soft-release aviary. Three months later, still alive in the lower stress environment – still fly over the fence but fly back. Wing clipping helped, but only lasts for 6 months, seasonal regrowth. COG monitoring progress.

EASTERN BETTONGS – Virtually extinct on the Australian mainland by 1930s. 60 introduced from Tasmania in 2011. Much breeding success (gestation period around 106 days, so can produce 3 offspring per year. Great diggers - each animal can move 3-4 tonnes of dirt per year.

In 2016 – 3 bettongs released into the Lower Cotter region, after a lot of fox and rabbit baiting and shooting. No active cat control (deliberately) and no mortalities reported due to cats. Seems they can co-exist. New anti-predator technologies being trialled. The ultimate aim is to release bettongs into the wild (ie. unmodified environment). New Zealand has a similar Sanctuary program under way, initially aiming to eradicate all foxes, weasels and wild cats nation-wide. Can’t do much about occasional deaths due to wedge-tail eagles.

EASTERN QUOLLS – Cat-sized. Released in 2016. Hard to keep them in! Internal electric fence helps. Those that escaped were killed by foxes on the first night. Can’t easily control foxes in the suburbs. This year, released 13 females. Two escaped and died (on second escape). Quolls are now effectively the top order predator in the sanctuary.

OTHER STUDIES – maybe introduction of Rosenberg's monitors (lizard growing to 1.5m), or the endangered Golden sun moth?

WHAT CAN SUTTON LANDCARE DO TO HELP

Apart from taking an increasing interest and spreading the word, since many SLG members have property close to the Sanctuary boundaries, it would be useful to contribute to the population reduction of predators, particularly foxes and wild cats.

A fox-baiting program has just started in the Sutton region. Coordinated and strategic participation would help a lot. Members raised the difficulty of concerned neighbours with dogs and cats. Next baiting opportunity is around December when the fox cubs are starting to roam independently.

For those opposed to fox baiting, fox traps are an alternative. However foxes are cunning so traps are not a simple solution.

Click here for more details.

13 June 2017 - Conservation of box-gum grassy woodlands

Senior Experimental Scientist Jacqui Stol from CSIRO’s Land and Water Division gave a presentation on the latest science and the best ways to recognise and manage Box-Gum Grassy Woodland ground-layers to maintain a healthy grassy sward dominated by Kangaroo Grass and Poa Tussock, and to optimise native plant diversity.  She drew on many of the examples and information from her recently published booklet “Jewels in the landscape – Managing very high conservation value ground layers in Box-Gum Grassy Woodlands”. Points raised included:

Box-gum woodlands were once widespread across the inland slopes of the NSW wheat-sheep zone, extending into Victoria and southern Queensland. Now most has been cleared for grazing, and only 5% remains in good condition. Hence their very high conservation value. The target is 30% in good condition (10% native and 20% lightly grazed). Typically they remain as travelling stock routes.

Preserving connectivity of wildlife corridors is a key requirement. Typical maximum range for native birds is only 100m, so need scattered paddock trees, plus intense tree lots about every 1.5km. Long thin strips of trees are not ideal because of negative edge effects.

Understory grassland needs careful management. Tools to conserve their biodiversity include slashing, short-duration pulse grazing and low-intensity burning. These tools are best used in Autumn (to counter exotic annual plants germinating) and sometimes in late Winter to early Spring (to counter these exotics seeding). Rest understory grasslands during Summer.

Click here for more details.

11 April 2017 – Seeds of Time movie

“Buried deep beneath the permafrost in Norway is a vault. A vault holding seeds, rather than gold or diamonds.” Between 2005 and 2012, Dr Cary Fowler was the Executive Director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, and helped create the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. The Trust wanted to ensure that the immense diversity of the World’s food crops was preserved for all time.

On 11 April the Sutton Landcare Group screened the movie “Seeds of Time” which details the journey Cary Fowler undertook to get the Svalbard vault built. It now holds more than 500,000 samples of crop germ plasm. It provides a backup for the national and international seed banks which donated the materials over the last 5 years. As a thread in the movie we saw how Peruvian farmers struggle to maintain their 1,500 varieties of native potato, under threat from rising temperatures. If you would like more information there are numerous articles on the vault on the web, for instance via www.croptrust.org, or even on Wikipedia.

Click here for more details.

14 February 2017 - Little Critters

Guest speaker Kat Ng, a PhD student at the Fenner School at ANU, gave us a very informative glimpse into the life of beetles and their value to the environment.

Conserving biodiversity often focuses on protecting native vegetation, while the surrounding farmlands are regarded as having limited biodiversity value. To probe this, Kat’s field research centered on four comparative trial plots representing remnant native woodlands: fallow areas, cropped areas, restoration plantings, and an experimental application of woody debris over cropped areas after harvest. She and several volunteers monitored 440 “beetle traps” in the Lachlan Catchment over a 5-month period. A massive amount of data was collected – 11,360 beetles covering 495 species and 53 beetle families.

Quantitative analysis spanning several seasonal changes revealed some results that challenge common perceptions – in particular, they showed higher beetle diversity in cultivated areas compared with native woodlands. However many species were restricted to native woodlands, and interestingly, many species used both woodlands and cultivated areas (including plantings) at different times. The edge or boundary between woodlands and farm paddocks was revealed as a unique habitat zone in that it had different localised beetle diversity and some beetles appear to be frequently crossing the border.

The very simplified bottom line is that diverse beetle communities indicate good ecosystem health, and can provide important ecological services like pest control, pollination, and nutrient cycling. This happy situation can be achieved by well-informed farm management, which considers the entire landscape rather than on particular habitats (e.g. single paddocks, plantings or woodlands). Kat highlighted the implications of high beetle activity along fence line edges, and whether badly-timed herbicide use might be harmful for insect diversity, including beneficial species. Click here for more details.