The Todd River from Undoolya Road crossing, 8th January, 2015. Photo Jen Kreusser.
G'day LFWers, GFWers, and friends everywhere.
Wow - what a terrific start to the year!
Alice Springs received several episodes of rain totaling 240mm in the first 22 days of the year (BOM, 2015)!
The rain has sparked plenty of new growth, emergent seedlings and has encouraged an invertebrate frenzy(!); signalling to birds, reptiles and mammals (vertebrates) that there is plenty of food about. Central Australia's recent flooding and flowing rivers coincided with World Wetland's Day
on February 2nd, 2015.
We hope you have enjoyed exploring the outdoors this month as much as we have. Get in touch and share your stories, we are always looking to include 'letters to the editor' and interesting feature stories in our newsletters!
We must take a moment to thank one of our knowledgeable and committed members of the LfW team - Jesse Carpenter. Unfortunately he has decided to pursue other opportunities slightly further north of here after dedicating nearly five years to the LfW and GfW programs. Thank you for all your tremendous efforts Jesse - see you about the traps!
Jen, Tim, Jesse and Bill
LfW and GfW team
Bureau of Meteorology. (2015). Month to date (01/01/2015 - 22/01/2015) rainfall totals for Alice Springs. Retrieved on 23 January, 2015 from: http://www.bom.gov.au/watl/rainfall/observations/index.shtml
Cicadas. Serving as sensational inspiration for sci-fi flicks, we know what they sound like and many of us would have spotted a nymphal exoskeleton clinging to a tree trunk. Perhaps you may not be aware that when we 'see' a cicada shell this represents their maturing stage into an adult - which is when the males (only) have the ability to make all that racket.
Other than investing their energy into finding a mate, cicadas will devour nutrients contained within plant sap, which is possibly why they are less noisy at certain times as they are busily eating. Interestingly, they are also responsible for the unusual 'cicada shower's' - as they work hard to process nutrients from the sap, they extrude a large portion of water that is no longer required. Have you ever experienced a Cicada shower...?
Considering they spend most of their life as nymphs underground (several years) feeding on roots, they are keen to call out to a potential mate as they only have a few weeks in the adult/breeding stage. The males become an instrument by contracting muscles next to their tympanal organs, depending on the species. So how do they make all that racket without being devoured by every bird and bat in sight? The unusual ventriloquistic nature of their call has the ability to confuse vertebrates - their predators, hence they are not completely devoured each night (Lloyd, 2013).
Golden Drummer (Thopha colorata) making his call on the trunk of a River Red Gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) along the Todd River. Photo Jen Kreusser.
Hollow nymph carapaces cling for their life, resembling growth and change. Photo Jen Kreusser.
Cicada carapaces were common just after all the rains! Photo Jen Kreusser.
Cicadas and their life cycle are a reminder about the impermanence of all natural things and their interdependence within an ecosystem. Before I get too carried away with philosophical ideas, it simply highlights one of the many processes that are ongoing within an ecosystem required for it to function optimally.
After all these rains we will be finding plenty of different insects and the CSIRO has released a very useful resource What Bug is That? that might help with your identification.
Australian Museum. (2014). Cicadas: Superfamily Cicadoidea. Retrieved on Janurary 8th, 2014 from http://australianmuseum.net.au/Cicadas-Superfamily-Cicadoidea
Lloyd, S. (2013). Bugs, Birds, Bettongs & Bush: conserving habitats for Tasmania's native animals. Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment: Hobart.
Popple, L. (2006). The Cicadas of central eastern Australia. Retrieved [9th January 2015] from: http://sci-s03.bacs.uq.edu.au/ins-info/index.htm
Rains, termites and frogs!
by Jen Kreusser
Most people would be familiar with 'flying ants' or alates, flourishing during and after summer rains. Recognisable by their papery wings left on footpaths and doorsteps (especially if a light is accidentally left on). Or perhaps whilst driving, many may leave their streaky marks underneath a window wiper. These 'alates' are actually sexually mature termites and these warm rains instigate the beginning of an adventure - to leave the colony and fly off into the night to find romance, with the intention of beginning a new colony! Although it may seem annoying for those evening drivers, for many reptiles and particularly amphibians (frogs) it is perfect timing!
Most species in central Australia are very well adapted to low rainfall and frogs in particular are able to wait out the drought beneath the surface until they are 'woken up' by the next rains. Then... the calling begins. Most people would have heard the evening drone only days after the rain. Many species have only a few short days or weeks to breed, eat (mostly termites) and, for burrowing species, resubmerge. Hence the perfect timing of the availability of termites and the frog feeding and breeding frenzy!
No doubt you have noticed the odd tadpole swimming about in various waterholes and drainage areas since the rain? It's pretty amazing that the rate of tadpole development is in response to the temperature of the water body. Importantly, tadpoles need to develop fully as (adult) frogs and return to a suitable burrowing site before all the water dries up. The smaller the puddle, the quicker the transformation due to the warmer summer water. This is most obvious when very cool water bodies from winter rains contain tadpoles that develop much slower (keep your eyes out during the cool months). Whereas currently, exposed water bodies are likely to be heating up and encouraging rapid growth.
Tadpoles develop at varying rates depending on the site water temperature. St Mary's Creek 23rd Jan. 2015. Photo Jen Kreusser.
So the great news is that most burrowing species (such as the Main's Burrowing Frog Cyclorana Maini pictured below) can take advantage and breed in very small amounts of temporary water and ephemeral claypans. Burrowing species secrete a sac around their body, that is a build up of skin cells that allows them to remain moist, protecting their body from drying out after they burrow underground. Burrowing frogs instigate a slower type of metabolism (aestivation) that allows them to survive for significant periods of time without needing to eat. Then, they wait....for the next rain to 'wake' them up!
The frog breeding frenzy contributes to an abundance of food available in all stages of their life cycle (eggs, tadpoles and frogs), which is taken advantage of by other higher order animals in the food chain (lizards, snakes, owls).
Interdependent relationships within an ecosystem therefore seem quite noticeable where species are in abundance. Luckily nature has various control measures (predation, natural attrition, water contamination, desiccation), so frogs don't take over town and are kept in balance. We would love to hear about your observations since the rain event last month, feel free to send in any comments or photos to firstname.lastname@example.org
Red Tree Frog (Littoria Rubella). Photo Jesse Carpenter.
Main's Burrowing Frog (Cyclorana Maini). Photo Jesse Carpenter.
Refer to last months newsletter about creating elements of ground habitat to encourage reptiles and amphibians to your block.
How to look after your Land for Wildlife or Garden for Wildlife property:
by Tim Dowling
Our third article in this series focuses on Fire: how to deal with the threat, how to use it as a tool, what to do in an emergency and other useful information.
Looking after the land in your custodianship
Here in Alice Springs we have had a nice drop of rain (240mm at the airport, more or less in other parts) over the beginning weeks of January, receiving nearly the yearly average in one week! This means that we are set for quite a bit of growth and of course, when that dries out there is an increased risk of fire. The aim here is to make some useful comments so that property owners and custodians can make sensible decisions about fire management. In the closer settled, smaller LFW blocks, controlled burning may be limited to burning piles of clippings or mowings, and fire control is mainly driven by a 'fuel' free fire break around your block and improvements.
Fire as a threat /hazard
A wildfire is a serious threat to houses, stock, property and human life. Similarly, on a grander scale, biodiversity is threatened by wildfire especially by firestorms in the hottest part of summer. A severe fire or an area that is burnt too frequently results in a loss of the seed bank and habitat (such as hollow logs, stags, cages of shrubs left standing and detritus on the soil) for wildlife to return. To prevent unintentional damage to the fragile desert ecology, there is much work that can be done, and/or maintained. After all, it is biodiversity that ultimately supports us here on the planet.
Many arid plants are fire dependent and using a cool fire as a tool can be beneficial for regeneration and to prevent wildfires from excess fuel loads. Photo: April 2013, Jeremy Snowdon-James.
Fire can be a useful tool for land management practices in all places other than rain-forests. In rain-forest there is, almost by definition, no burning at all as they comprise of the most fire-sensitive plants.
Fire as a tool
- In the majority of Australian landscapes mosaic or patch burns increase biodiversity. The idea is to burn small patches using a cool fire leaving areas unburnt so that there is refuge for animals and seed stock for rehabilitation. Cool burning encourages new growth in a range plants, providing feed for animals to flourish. Aboriginal people have used this technique to manage arid country for thousands of years; shaping today's landscape.
- Before carrying out a planned burn it is important to let your neighbours and Bushfires NT know. Bushfires NT will be able to advise with planning and permits. Neighbours may be involved if the fire escapes or they may be involved in a combined effort. It may work out that the neighbours are like minded and wish to participate in your patch burn if you participate in theirs: "neighbourliness".
- A fire produces an ash bed which provides readily available nutrients for plants after the next rain.
- Rain after a big fire increases potential erosion. A smaller fire in a patchwork arrangement makes sense.
Fire prevention and emergency
Be fire-ready. Have a fire plan for both emergency and prevention.
- Have good, quick access to water for firefighting with large gate valves at the bottom of tanks for houses, sheds etc and have suitable hoses nearby.
- Make sure there are adequate fire breaks. They should be four metres in width and be of graded or mown vegetation of no more than 50mm in height. They provide a break in the flow of fuel for a mild fire as well as access for back burning and quick escape from fire if necessary. To keep your grass short you may use a slasher or you may wish to consider grazing the fire break by horses, cattle or camels etc. (Tip: use an electric fence to keep the stock from straying off the perimeter). This method greatly reduces biomass at ground level as well as up to 1.5 – 2 metres off the ground. This also removes the need for a grader or other machinery (click for more info).
- Consider incorporating pools, ponds or other large bodies of water into your fire protection plan.
- Does all your family know what to do?
- Is there a refuge area? Where do you meet?
- Stay or go?
- Who are the authorities to call?
- Have a plan that includes the possibility of fires travelling from outside the property to your property. Also the possibility of fires generated within the property and travelling through the boundary to neighbouring properties.
Landscape planning for fire
Here are a couple of suggestions:
- As a general rule keep debris away from the house and use irrigated lawns and cultivated gardens as fire breaks (more info. here).
- There is anecdotal evidence that Heath Myrtle Thryptomene maisonneuvei, (found near Uluru) although ultimately killed by fire, can slow a mild fire down or even stop it in its tracks.
- As for a list of flammable plants and non-flammable plants for planting around houses in Alice Springs - there are none. Everything will burn given the right conditions, but some are more reluctant to burn.
Know your country
Here is a collection of interesting thoughts and research around fire in the desert. Fire (and a plants’ ability to survive it) is a necessary part of desert ecology.
- No discussion about fire can escape without mentioning buffel grass. Its methods of survival include the ability to survive fire easily and resprout using its basal lignotubers faster than native species. This pest out-grows and therefore out-competes a lot of native grasses and herbs.
- Most of Australia is comprised of highly fire dependent plants (Latz, 1995). For instance Acacia spp. die from fire, but the heat and following ash bed allows the seed to crack open and flourish in the next rain. Spinifex Triodia spp., a grassy ground cover and Eucalypts spp., are highly flammable. They occupy a great portion of Australia which makes for a highly flammable nation.
Woody seed pods of the Fork-leaved corkwood Hakea divaricata.
Protective bark from the Fork-leaved Corkwood Hakea divaricata supports 'resprouting' and survival after a fire.
- Different plants have different techniques for adapting to fire. There are two groups based on methods of fire survival. There are 'seeders' and 'resprouters' or those that do both. For example:
- Trees and shrubs with a thicker bark are more likely to survive a fire as their vascular system remains intact even after the leaves and canopy have gone. Such as the Long-leaved Corkwood Hakea lorea. These can resprout but they also have a nut or fruit that opens after a fire to release the seed into the fertile ash following a fire (also Fork-leaved Corkwood, H. divaricata).
- Eucalypts such as the river red gum have the ability of re-shooting from both the epicormic buds under the bark and the lignotuber at the base which is at or below ground level. These trees are almost indestructible, coming back to life after seemingly total annihilation, but they may need a new stem.
- Fire is important for cracking the hard seed coats of many native species such as the Witchetty Bush Acacia tetragonophylla and the mulga A. aneura. These bushes are generally killed by fire and have to regenerate from seed - regarded as seeders. In the case of the mulga (a seeder after fire and occasionally also a resprouter after a light winter fire), the fire story gets complicated. Individual plants are fire sensitive and mostly die in a mild summer fire. However they are dependent on fire to crack seed coats and it is well documented that seedling germination is stimulated by fire (Latz, 1995). Fire intensity and duration between fire episodes can complicate matters. It takes 10 to 15 years for mulga to mature and produce enough seed to regenerate after a fire. If the frequency is shorter than this or the fire is so intense that it kills both tree and seedbank, then mulga does not survive and sets the stage for spinifex and other grasses to take over.
- Fire sensitive plants such as the White Cypress Pine, Callitris glaucophylla, (pictured), and the Desert or Rock Fig Ficus platypoda have learned to live with fire and re-seed. Both are killed by fire and are found in sheltered areas usually protected from fire. Callitris glaucophylla seeds have no coat so are easily burnt, however the plant holds onto the seed in a cone which opens to release the seed after fire.
Seed pod from the White cypress pine Callitris glaucophylla. Photo Jen Kreusser.
A fire sensitive plant, the White Cypress Pine Callitris glaucophylla growing in a dangerous location along the Hugh River N.T. Photo Tim Dowling.
What to do in an emergency
In an emergency, what do you do?
Ring '000' (triple zero).
Permits and advice on fire breaks:
- NTFRS Northern Territory Fire and Rescue Service
- Bushfires NT
- The NAFI (Northern Australian Fire Information) website shows mapping information on fires burning in the last few hours and days and fire scars from the previous year.
- How to safeguard your home - a 20 point checklist
- A succinct Aboriginal perspective
Latz, P. (1995). Bushfires and bushtucker: Aboriginal plant use in central Australia, IAD Press, Alice Springs.
Latz, P. (2007). The Flaming desert: arid Australia – a fire shaped landscape, Alice Springs.
Vinter, A. (2012). The Alice Springs bush regeneration handbook, Alice Springs.
Recent books and resources...
Climate Change: Learning about what is happening with the weather in central Australia.
By Mooney, M. Walsh, F., Hill, R., Davies, J., Sparrow, A. and Central Land Council Lytentye Apurte Rangers.
The CSIRO, Ninti One and Tangentyere Land and Learning and the Ltyentye Apurte (Santa Teresa) community integrate the science of climate change and Indigenous ecological understanding and knowledge in an interesting and easy to read resource specific to central Australia. It includes over 40 years of data from Hermannsburg, Alice Springs and Ltyentye Apurte (Santa Teresa). Access to this fantastic resource is available in local bookshops and online.
Soil and Landscape Grid of Australia
A new nationally relevant resource produced by a collaboration of scientists offering datasets about soil and landscapes about each 90 metre square of Australia! Using the latest technologies and spatial modelling 'The Grid' provides useful information suitable for a range of sectors. This is also a timely release, as it corresponds with the International Year of Soils - and it's free!
The Soil and Landscape Grip of Australia has more information on their website and there is also a clip that explains the resource simply.
Environmental and wildlife news that's made the headlines!
New bait for feral cats - trials in NT
Link to article on The Guardian
Buffel grass invasion threat abatement advice
Link to Department of Environment
Dingos not to blame for devil and tiger extinctions
Link to article on The Conversation
Endangered Orange-bellied parrots bouncing back
Link to article in the Mercury
Threatened black-cockatoos may win hearts of survey volunteers
Link to article in The Guardian
The future of remote outback Australia
Link to report by The Pew Charitable Trusts
Rare frilled-shark captured off SE Victoria
Link to report on Yahoo 7 News
Remembering our extinct mammals and how to help out those that are left!
Link to article on the conversation
Improving native seeds for regeneration
Link to article on the ABC
Nine new frog species found in the Indian mountains
Link to article on BBC Earth
Rabbit managment down south
Link to article on Moruya Examiner
Olive Pink Botanical Garden - Huge Plant Sale - Sunday 22nd March, 2015
The Land for Wildlife and Garden for Wildlife team will be at the Olive Pink (huge) Plant Sale, to give free advice and suggestions about planting in your backyard. Come and see us to find out what will grow better in the soil at your place. We will also have two books for sale at bargain prices - set to keep you inspired. If you can't wait to get a copy, drop in to Big Kangaroo Books for a copy:
Native Plants for Central Australian Gardens
The Alice Springs bush regeneration handbook
Keep your eyes out for invasive Big-headed ants that may be taking up refuge in and around your place - particularly after all of these rains as they prefer moist conditions.
They like to nest in or near pot plants, paving, concrete, compost, kitchens and/or irrigation piping.
These minute ants are pale ginger, in large numbers and move fairly slowly. They are often accompanied by a larger 'worker' ant with a very large orange to dark red head.
If you think you may have big-headed ants you may want to consider eradication as they can take over your property, become a nuisance and significantly decrease diversity of invertebrates and in particular native ants - as they play important roles in seed distribution and recycling of nutrients. Get in touch with the Land for Wildlife/Garden for Wildlife coordinators for more information (email@example.com) or pest control businesses in town.
Thanks for reading folks!
We are delighted to announce that the Alice Springs Community Garden is our most recent member of the Garden for Wildlife scheme.
For a $10 life time registration fee, members are offered free resources, advice and ongoing support to help you keep motivated to manage your garden/property to increase biodiversity. The scheme targets residential properties within Alice Springs, so if you know of anyone who might be interested - forward this newsletter and tell them to get in touch!
Alice Springs Community Gardens joins Garden for Wildlife scheme. From left: Tim Dowling, Bruce Simmons, Jen Kreusser and Jimmy Cocking. January 2015.
Keep those stories flowing in. We are always happy to hear your suggestions, feedback or news?
Would you like to inspire other members about your projects or changes to your property and/or garden? Get in touch and we can include stories in next months newsletter!
Jen, Tim, Jesse & Bill.