For over 30 years, David Lindenmayer and his team have been undertaking long-term, large scale, ecological research in south-eastern Australia. David began his research by tracking possums in the tall ash forests of Victoria’s Central Highlands in 1983. His PhD followed possums to their den sites while collecting information about their habitat. Now undeniably the world’s expert in Leadbeater’s Possum, David’s research has been crucial in the identification of significant habitat and monitoring populations of this critically endangered marsupial. Since this time, the team have gone on to amass an epic body of work on the ecology of the ash forests, its fauna and the impacts of fire and logging. However, David’s research interests were set to expand further afield from the Mountain Ash forests.
“… it all began with a glance out of a plane window.”
Keen observation is arguably the fundamental core of ecological research. While flying to Melbourne from Canberra in the early 1990’s, David became fascinated by the landscape below, of which remnants of native woodlands had become ‘islands’ within vast areas of pine plantations. From this observation, questions emerged – how did the native fauna react to this fragmentation? What role could remnants play in conserving biodiversity in plantations? In order to answer these, the Tumut Fragmentation Study was launched in 1995. This study continued for twelve years and answered these and many more questions, determining that even very small isolated remnant patches could support more fauna species than previously thought and indeed have significant conservation value.
This second large-scale, long term study at Tumut expanded the team’s research from concentrating on tall forests, to investigating woodlands. Temperate woodlands in Australia are in a sparse and fragmented state. Unlike the tall forests of Victoria which could be found within state forests and other reserves, woodland remnants and revegetation plantings primarily occur on private agricultural land.
The research did not stop there, and now over 30 years since tracking possums in Victoria’s Central Highlands, the team now monitors seven major study areas with 1219 permanent sites. Sites range from Powelltown in Victoria’s Central Highlands, to Warwick in southern Queensland, involving 282 private landholders, National Parks, State Forest, Traveling Stock Reserves, and department of defence land. We are now a team of eight full time researchers, based permanently in the field. Each of us is working on one of the larger study areas which means we are colleagues who live hundreds of kilometers apart.
Each site may be regularly monitored for birds, reptiles, amphibians, mammals, vegetation and habitat structure. Surveys include targeted monitoring of the critically endangered Leadbeater’s Possum in Victoria’s Central Highlands, small mammal monitoring at Booderee National Park, fifteen thousand artificial substrates in woodlands, and thousands of bird surveys every year. Also within the framework of the major studies, dozens of PhD, Masters, and collaborative studies are hosted.
Current major research programs include:
These studies lead to a rich base of ecological knowledge and insight into Australian biodiversity across landscapes. While the primary aim of the research programs we undertake is to understand the ecological needs of species and communities, as well as investigate and guide management interventions - a core responsibility of the team is to communicate the science and promote understanding of these complex systems. For quite some time the research outcomes of these studies have been primarily relayed through academic journals, and presented to funding partners, natural resource management bodies, government agencies and participating landowners.
“A lot of the research we undertake is published in academic journals that the wider community never read – we’d like to get those messages out”
Mason Crane, Local Land Services field day 29/7/2014
Now, we want to share the outcomes of this research with the wider community. We hope that readers of this blog will gain insight into the studies being undertaken, what it means to be an ecological researcher, the amazing amount of effort and resources needed to carry out such programs, and share in the research discoveries that are made along the way.
Lindenmayer, D. B., McCarthy, M. A., Parris, K. M., & Pope, M. L. (2000). Habitat fragmentation, landscape context, and mammalian assemblages in southeastern Australia. Journal of Mammalogy, 81(3), 787-797.