By Lance Lloyd – Water Stewardship Program Adviser
Rewilding is an ecological restoration action which is warranted when species are lost from our landscapes and cannot just return due to lack of nearby populations or corridors to a site. However, a pre-cursor to rewilding is ensuring ecological processes and habitats exist. Restoring native Ecological Vegetation Communities (EVCs) to support Endangered Species requires restoration of functional ecological webs, including soil microbiota, invertebrates, flora, and fauna.
While information is available to identify historic habitats and vertebrate species associated with them, far less is known about the microbiota (bacteria and fungi) and invertebrates (mites, spiders, insects -millipedes, centipedes, ants, bees, bugs, butterflies, moths etc) that are critical to the existence of both the EVCs and vertebrate fauna. Understanding invertebrate communities associated with specific habitats could identify missing invertebrate species and highlight possible opportunities to replace these invertebrate species and/or enhance environmental elements that support them. In so doing, success in the re-establishment of EVCs, and vertebrate fauna that these EVCs and invertebrate communities support, could also be enhanced.
Harewood is a coastal site on the north shore of Western Port on which ongoing landscape restoration for conservation purposes has been carried out for over two decades. Previous vegetation survey work has identified eleven EVCs (some of which are endangered habitats) while vertebrate survey work has identified three endangered species (Growling Grass Frogs, Southern Brown Bandicoots and Swamp Skinks), all of which rely on invertebrates as a substantial part of their diets.
The Western Port Biosphere is supporting a research project led by Dr Pat McWhirter, owner of Harewood, Professor Heloise Gibb and Dr Nick Murphy from La Trobe University, Ecologist Nic McCaffre, and the Biosphere’s Ecologist Lance Lloyd, to survey the habitat present, the terrestrial invertebrates present and undertake an eDNA survey for aquatic invertebrates. The work will identify the invertebrates associated with the habitats that have been mapped on the site.
This project is seen as a pilot program for both rewilding at Harewood and across the Biosphere Reserve. The goal is to undertake a pilot program to establish the feasibility of a long-term and integrated rewilding program at Harewood. This is also aimed at learning lessons which would be applicable at other sites within the Biosphere Reserve. For instance, we hope the work will identify the invertebrates that support growling grass frogs (listed as Endangered under the FFG Act in Victoria) which in turn, supports rare species such as the Australasian Bittern (Critically Endangered, FFG Act Victoria).