To establish baseline ecological data and identify biodiversity hotspots in this wilderness region of Australia
The Kimberley is one of only five remaining vast wilderness areas on the planet and is home to many species found nowhere else in the world. The region is facing a variety of threats though from indiscriminate burning, mining, cattle grazing, introduced pest species (including cane toads) and climate change.
Australia's Kimberley is roughly the size of Victoria and one of only five great wilderness areas remaining in the world. Geographically, this region stretches north from a line between Broome in the west to the Northern Territory border in the east. It is one of the most ecologically intact regions in Australia, containing exceptional biodiversity, high numbers of endemic fauna (more than 50 vertebrate species alone) and many animals listed as threatened or declining elsewhere in Australia. It also contains a spectacular and fragile coastline, hundreds of offshore islands, numerous undisturbed, unregulated rivers and creeks, many waterfalls and the world's most significant Aboriginal rock art galleries. Isolation combined with little development and few people have acted to protect the Kimberley and its wildlife since European settlement.
Survey sites were selected based on geology, soil type and vegetation communities. A variety of fauna survey techniques were employed at each site visited including elliot, cage, and pitfall trapping, harp trapping, spotlighting, scat analysis, cat gut content analysis, rock rolling (for reptiles), anabat recording and direct observation. Survey effort has been consistent across all sites visited and currently totals in excess of 20'000 trap nights with roughly 40 sites surveyed within the two million acre survey area.
To date over 170 different bird species and 75 different reptile species, including several undescribed species (one legless lizard, two skinks, one gecko and one fresh water turtle species), have been described. A testament to the rich biodiversity of this region. In addition, 26 different frog species, including several unidentified species and 50 mammal species, have been identified. Survey data also indicates large range extensions for many other species. The abundance of many species, initially expected to be commonly encountered, has been found to be very low from initial investigations.
The three Kimberley rock wallabies (short-eared rock-wallaby, monjon and nabarlek) are the least studied of any rock wallaby in Australia and of conservation concern with changed fire regimes, cattle grazing, introduced pests and mining on their door step. Conservation Ark staff and a PhD student are examining the population genetics, ecology, distribution and breeding biology of this group in the North Kimberley Rangelands suggesting that these species may be important indicator species for environmental change. The information gathered will be valuable for wildlife agencies trying to manage and conserve these and other species in this region into the future.
Conservation Ark staff and a PhD student are also examining the abundance and distribution of small mammals (<2kg) in the rangelands of the north Kimberley and their relationship fire history, cattle grazing and vegetation/habitat type. This is of critical importance as it is thought that changed fire regimes associated with cattle grazing have dramatically altered habitat complexity and suitability for many species. The biology and ecology of many small mammals from this region are poorly known. Staff and students hope that through their work our understanding of these species will improve dramatically and that areas of high species diversity and high conservation value can be identified for protection by state and federal wildlife managers.
In addition, Conservation Ark staff are also involved in collaborations for the establishment of an environmental education program for the indigenous people of the north Kimberley region.
WAZA Conservation Project 09012 is implemented by Conservation Ark and Dunkeld Pastoral Company and is supported by University of Adelaide, Wildlife Unlimited, Department of Environment and Conservation (WA), Kalumburu remote community school, Botanic Gardens and Parks Authority (WA), Western Australian Museum.
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