Hidden beard heath (leucopogon obtectus) recovery plan



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The species is listed as Endangered and it is considered that all known habitat is habitat critical to its survival, and that all populations are important populations. Currently, a significant proportion of the species’ known occurrence is within mineral sands mining rehabilitation plots. As such, these occurrences should also be interpreted as representing important populations.



Benefits to other species or ecological communities: Other listed and priority flora and one Threatened Ecological Community (TEC) also occur in the wider habitat of Leucopogon obtectus. Recovery actions implemented for L. obtectus will also protect these species and the ecological community.

International obligations: This plan is fully consistent with the aims and recommendations of the Convention on Biological Diversity, ratified by Australia in June 1993, and will assist in implementing Australia’s responsibilities under that Convention. Leucopogon obtectus is not specifically listed under any international treaty, and therefore this plan does not affect Australia’s obligations under any other international agreements.




Role and interests of indigenous people: According to the Department of Indigenous Affairs Aboriginal Heritage Sites Register, no sites of Aboriginal significance are known at or near populations of the species. However, the involvement of the indigenous community has been sought to determine whether there are any issues or interests identified in the plan Opportunities for indigenous roles in the recovery of the species will be encouraged and may exist through cultural interpretation and awareness of the species. Continued liaison between DEC and the indigenous community will identify areas in which collaboration will assist implementation of recovery actions.


Affected interests: Main Roads WA, and several mining companies manage land on which this species occurs.

Social and economic impact: The implementation of this recovery plan has the potential to have some social and economic impact as some populations of Leucopogon obtectus occur on land leased for mining and others are on road reserves. Negotiations will continue with regard to their future management and recovery actions will involve liaison and cooperation with stakeholders.




Evaluation of the plan’s performance: DEC in conjunction with the Moora District Threatened Flora Recovery Team (MDTFRT) will evaluate the performance of this plan. In addition to annual reporting on progress against listed actions and criteria for success and failure, the plan is to be reviewed within five years of its implementation.



Existing Recovery Actions: The following recovery actions have been or are currently being implemented in tandem with the development of this recovery plan:


  1. Relevant land managers have been made aware of the location and threatened status of the species.

  2. Staff from the Botanic Gardens and Parks Authority (BGPA) have 3 clones of the taxon, one from tissue material and two originating from seed. At present 4.35 g of seed, collected in 1999 from the vicinity of “Beekeepers Reserve”, is stored in the BGPA seed store. Factors associated with observed low germination rates are currently being examined. Shoot-tip tissue material has been used to develop micropropagation techniques, with some measure of successful growth being achieved in laboratory media. Survival of plants generated by these techniques when transferred to soil media has been poor. Factors contributing to this low survival rate are currently being examined, such as, the absence of required mycorrhizal fungi. Mycorrhizal fungi have been successfully isolated from natural populations of Leucopogon obtectus and maintained in laboratory culture.

  3. Research and development initiatives under the Iluka Resources Eneabba Operations Environmental Program 1999 -2000 have supported studies relating to Leucopogon obtectus. These included:

  • A PhD project supervised by the BGPA that is examining Genetic Diversity of Leucopogon obtectus through DNA analyses.

  • A Curtin University student project (co-supported by Alcoa and MERIWA) that is attempting somatic embryogenesis of Leucopogon obtectus.

  1. A comprehensive survey of populations 1, 2 (north of Eneabba) and 4 (Alexander Morrison National Park) were conducted for RGC Mineral Sands Limited by Landcare Services in 1988.

  2. In November 2005 a census of Leucopogon obtectus within the Iluka Resources mining lease was conducted by the Eneabba Operations staff.

  3. Staff from DEC Moora District annually monitor populations of the species (depending on available resources).

  4. The Moora District Threatened Flora Recovery Team is overseeing the implementation of this Recovery plan and includes information on progress in its annual reports to DEC's Corporate Executive and funding bodies.


Recovery Plan objective: The objective of this Recovery plan is to maintain or enhance viable in situ populations to ensure the long-term preservation of the species in the wild.
Recovery criteria
Criteria for success: The number of individuals within populations has increased by ten percent or more or the number of populations has increased.

Criteria for failure: The number of individuals within populations has decreased by ten percent or more or the number of populations has decreased.
Recovery actions

1

Coordinate recovery actions

10

Stimulate regeneration

2

Liaise with relevant land managers

11

Implement weed control if required

3

Achieve long-term protection of habitat

12

Research fire ecology

4

Map habitat critical to the survival of the species

13

Implement a fire management strategy

5

Monitor populations

14

Promote awareness

6

Conduct further surveys

15

Undertake and monitor translocation

7

Obtain biological and ecological information

16

Install DRF markers

8

Collect and preserve genetic material

17

Review the plan and assess the need for further recovery actions

9

Research and develop techniques for propagating Leucopogon obtectus for translocation








1. BACKGROUND

History
Leucopogon obtectus was first collected between the Moore and Murchison rivers by James Drummond and was named by Bentham in 1868. It was then not until 1978 that the species was again seen and collected. Following its discovery, a comprehensive survey by CALM in 1981 (Lewis. 1981) discovered about 100 plants in 25 groups, many of which consisted of a single plant.
A significant proportion of the northern sandplain habitat of Leucopogon obtectus coincides with mineral sand deposits and, since the early 1970’s, has been subject to a number of exploration licenses and mining leases. Mining has been active in the area of known occupancy of the species and one population (pop. 3) is largely the result of the species re-establishing in the area after habitat rehabilitation activities, presumably due to soil seed stock.
A reserve northwest of Eneabba in which populations of Leucopogon obtectus occur was gazetted for flora and fauna conservation in 1989 (Brown et. al, 1998).


Leucopogon obtectus was declared as Rare Flora under the Western Australian Wildlife Conservation Act 1950 in September 1987, and was later listed as Endangered under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (1999).




Description



Leucopogon obtectus is an erect, open shrub growing to about 1.5 m tall with a few long, erect branches that are completely covered by the foliage. The stalkless, concave, rigid leaves are about 1 cm long and 1 cm wide and have fine lines. They are also a pale bluish-green colour, broadly heart-shaped (to ovate or orbicular), end in a small sharp point, and overlap along the stems. Flowers are creamy-yellow, very small, borne 2 or 3 together on very short peduncles arising singly from the lead axils and not projecting beyond the leaves. Each flower has 6 petals, united to form a tube towards the base. Five of the petal lobes spread outwards to show the dense hairs on the inner surface. Five stamens alternate with the petals. Smooth green egg-shaped fruits hold a single seed (Brown et. al, 1998 and Leigh et. al, 1984).
The generic name Leucopogon is derived from the Greek leucos (white) and pogon (beard) and refers to the white bearded corolla lobes found on all species. The species name obtectus, is derived from the Latin obtego (to cover, conceal, protect), referring to the complete covering of the branches by the overlapping leaves (Leigh et. al, 1984)

Distribution and habitat


Leucopogon obtectus has been recorded from Alexander Morrison National Park at the south-eastern end of its known distribution to just north of Nature Reserve 39744 at the northern end, representing a distance of about 60 km. A single unconfirmed record has been made of a population 40 km south of Eneabba. Most populations of L. obtectus are found over a range of about 30 km extending northwest and southeast of Eneabba. The species grows as a taller component of low open heath in open scattered populations, mainly on the crests and upper slopes of sand dunes (or more rarely in interdunal swales) comprised of grey-white or pale yellow sands (Brown et. al, 1998). Associated species include Xylomelum angustifolium and Xanthorrhoea preissii.
Summary of population land vesting, purpose and tenure

Pop. No. & Location

DEC District

Shire

Vesting

Purpose

Tenure

1a. N of Eneabba

Moora

Irwin

Main Roads WA

Road Reserve

Other Crown Reserve

1b. N of Eneabba

Moora

Irwin

Unallocated*

-

Unallocated Crown Land

1c. N of Eneabba

Moora

Carnamah

Conservation Commission

Conservation of flora and fauna

Nature Reserve

1d. N of Eneabba

Moora

Three Springs

Main Roads WA

Road Reserve

Other Crown Reserve

1e. N of Eneabba

Swan

Carnamah

Conservation Commission

Conservation of flora and fauna

Nature Reserve

1f. N of Eneabba

Moora

Carnamah

Unallocated

-

Unallocated Crown Land

1g. N of Eneabba

Moora

Three Springs

Unallocated

-

Unallocated Crown Land

2. S of Eneabba

Moora

Carnamah

Unallocated

-

Unallocated Crown Land

3a. S of Eneabba

Moora

Carnamah

Unallocated

-

Unallocated Crown Land

3b. S of Eneabba

Moora

Carnamah

Unallocated

-

Unallocated Crown Land

3c. S of Eneabba

Moora

Carnamah

Conservation Commission

Conservation of flora and fauna

Nature Reserve

3d. S of Eneabba

Moora

Carnamah

Conservation Commission

Conservation of flora and fauna

Nature Reserve

3e. S of Eneabba

Moora

Carnamah

Main Roads WA

Road Reserve

Other Crown Reserve

3f. S of Eneabba

Moora

Carnamah

Conservation Commission

Conservation of flora and fauna

Nature Reserve

3g. S of Eneabba

Moora

Carnamah

Main Roads WA

Road Reserve

Other Crown Reserve

4a. SE of Eneabba

Moora

Coorow

Conservation Commission

Conservation of flora and fauna

National Park

4b. SE of Eneabba

Moora

Coorow

Conservation Commission

Conservation of flora and fauna

National Park

5. S of Eneabba

Moora

Dandaragan

Conservation Commission

Conservation of flora and fauna

Nature Reserve

* The Department for Environment and Conservation (DEC) is the management agency for fire prevention, feral animals and weeds in areas of Unallocated Crown Land in WA
Biology and ecology
Information specific to Leucopogon obtectus is limited. However, characteristics generally associated with the genus and its family, the Epacridaceae, may be applicable to the species.
Leucopogon obtectus is a relatively short lived disturbance opportunist in that it is killed by fire, regenerating from seed rather than resprouting from lignotuberous/perennial root stock. It is therefore likely that, in common with most other Australian Epacridaceae, L. obtectus recruits only from seed stored in the soil. It has been suggested that a certain period of seed ageing may be required to break down the hard seed coat and initiate germination. Few L. obtectus seedlings have been observed amongst mature living plants.
The species is thought to be both insect and bird pollinated.
Single age, undisturbed stands of mature Leucopogon obtectus that are associated with mine rehabilitation plots established in the mid 1980s are showing evidence of senescence. A number of plants in these stands, recorded as alive in 1998 have since died, suggesting that the life span of individuals may be no more than 20 years.
Natural seed-set does not appear to be prolific (Bunn, personal communication) suggesting that it may take some years for soil seed reserves to accumulate. There is a risk of rapid depletion if seed reserves are subject to frequent disturbance such as fire, which results in the species not reaching sexual maturity.
As with many other members of the Epacridaceae, Leucopogon species are difficult to propagate. Seed germination rates are very low and, although some species may occasionally be propagated from cuttings, they rarely establish successfully under cultivation (Leigh et al., 1984). In the mid 1980s BGPA staff had some success in tissue culturing Leucopogon obtectus. At this time they propagated a number of healthy plants in laboratory media using shoot tip culture techniques in one of the few published studies on micropropagation of the Epacridaceae. However, plants produced by this technique failed to survive and develop after transfer to soil based media (Bunn 1989). Leucopogon obtectus, in common with most other Epacridaceae, is dependent on forming symbioses with mycorrhizal fungi and an absence of such mycorrhizae has been suggested as a possible factor in the poor survival of micropropagated plants. BGPA staff are currently examining this relationship and have successfully isolated and maintained cultures of appropriate mycorrhizal fungi for future work in examining their role in the long term establishment of transplanted seedlings.
Recent molecular genetic studies conducted by BGPA staff have indicated that there is a high level of genetic variability amongst individual plants but no significant population differentiation. It has been suggested that the species comprises a single genetically diverse group associated with an outcrossing reproductive strategy. This has implications for restoration management of the species and it has been suggested that using seeds collected from natural populations enables high genetic diversity and outbreeding processes in restored populations to be maintained (Zawko et al. 2001). From these genetic studies, recruitment from the soil seed bank appears to have been sufficient to replenish a similar degree of genetic diversity in post mine rehabilitated populations when compared with undisturbed natural populations.
Threats
Leucopogon obtectus was declared as Rare Flora in September 1987 under the Western Australian Wildlife Conservation Act 1950 and is currently ranked as Endangered (EN) in Western Australia against World Conservation Union (IUCN) criterion D (IUCN 2001) as there were less than 250 mature individuals known at the time of ranking. There are now over 500 plants known and the species strictly meets Vulnerable (VU) under IUCN criterion D. Leucopogon obtectus is listed as Endangered under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). The main threats are degradation of habitat (largely through mining and exploration), inappropriate fire regimes, lack of appropriate disturbance, road and rail maintenance.
Threats to the species include:


  • Mining leases and mineral exploration licenses cover habitat containing most of the known occurrences of Leucopogon obtectus. Mining reduces the species’ available natural habitat and constitutes a significant threat.

  • Disease: Although Leucopogon obtectus is presumed to be susceptible to Phytophthora related dieback (Brown et al. 1998), the degree of susceptibility is unknown. Keighery (1988) indicates that the genus Leucopogon is variable in its response to infection and the comparatively rapid maturing characteristics of some species may enable recruitment within a population before succumbing to the disease. Larger slower maturing species such as L. obtectus may be more susceptible. Phytophthora related dieback has been recorded within the vicinity of the species’ habitat and is known to affect associated heathland plant species. Mining and exploration activities have the potential to exacerbate and spread dieback and it should therefore be considered a potential threat in the management of L. obtectus. Management practices should incorporate disease control as part of an overall habitat management strategy.

  • Inappropriate fire regimes may affect the viability of populations. Although fire is the stimulus for germination and occasional fires are needed for reproduction and maintenance of populations, the soil seed bank has the potential to be depleted if fires recur before regenerating or juvenile plants reach maturity.

  • Lack of disturbance As few seedlings or juvenile plants have been observed in association with mature living plants, lack of appropriate disturbance may present a threat where populations are mature or senescent. Unburnt 20 year old mine rehabilitation sub-populations are showing signs of senescence with little evidence of recruitment.

  • Road, rail and firebreak maintenance threatens all road and rail reserve populations and most populations that may occur on private property. Threats include grading, chemical spraying, construction of drainage channels and mowing of roadside vegetation. Several of these actions also encourage weed invasion. At least one example of plant death from local flooding has been documented. Natural gas pipeline Station No.1 is located within Population 1c and an access track from Beekeepers Rd to the station also runs through the population. Activities associated with this access facility presents threats with respect to introduction and spread of weeds and disease.

  • Weed invasion is a potential threat to all populations, although most remain largely weed-free at present. Weed incursions are a potential threat where they exclusively occupy the post-fire regeneration niche of the species. Weeds suppress plant growth and recruitment by competing for soil moisture, nutrients and light. They also exacerbate grazing pressure and increase the fire hazard due to the ready ignition and high energy output of increased fuel loads, which are produced annually by many grass weed species. Acacia blakelyi is a significant invasive species of recent mine rehabilitation blocks and, although native to the region, may limit the establishment of other local native species.

  • Seed Predation: Seed examined during surveys conducted by BGPA staff in the 1980s showed apparent high levels of predation with estimates of up to 80% predated seed found. Predator damage included signs of borers and small larvae within mature fruit from which the endosperm had presumably been consumed. These observations represent one season’s data, derived mainly from mine rehabilitation sites where most seed collections took place (Eric Bunn, personal communication) and it needs to be determined if this phenomenon is typical of all populations, including those in undisturbed natural habitats. It is nonetheless a potential threat to the maintenance of a viable soil seedbank.



Summary of population information and threats

Pop. No. & Location

Year No. plants

Condition

Threats

1a. N of Eneabba

1993 2

2000 2


2009 2

Poor

Flooding, Road/firebreak maintenance

1b. N of Eneabba

1995 2

2009 0


Healthy (1995). Unknown following 1998 – 2002 burns/wildfires

Wildfire (if too frequent)

1c. N of Eneabba

1981 14

1995 12


1998 50

2009 32


Healthy (1981). Unknown following 1998 – 2002 burns/wildfires

Activities associated with access track to gas (pipeline) within reserve e.g.: track maintenance, weed, dieback spread.

1d. N of Eneabba

1992 Not found

1998 2


2009 0

Not recorded 1998. Unknown following 1998 – 2002 burns/wildfires

Wildfire (if too frequent), road maintenance activities

1e. N of Eneabba

1981 25

1998 22


2009 25

Healthy (1981). Unknown following 1998 – 2002 burns/wildfires

Wildfire (if too frequent)

1f. N of Eneabba

1992 22

1998 269


2009 230

Healthy (1992). Unknown following 1998 – 2002 burns/wildfires

Wildfire (if too frequent)

1g. N of Eneabba

1998 1

Unknown following 1998 – 2002 burns/wildfires

Wildfire (if too frequent), track maintenance, weed invasion, dieback spread.

2. S of Eneabba

1998 5

2009 4


Not recorded

Wildfire (if too frequent)

3a. S of Eneabba

1982 15

1998 44 [33]

1999 8

2009 105


Healthy (pre mining rehab – various years 1987 2004)

Mining, Invasive species (Acacia blakelyi) on rehab sites. Lack of appropriate fire regimes

3b. S of Eneabba

1999 6

2009 3


Moderate. Undisturbed (2004)

Mining

3c. S of Eneabba

1998 1

1999 16 [8]

2000 1

2009 26


Healthy (pre mining rehab – various years 1991 2004)

Mining

3d. S of Eneabba

1991 2 (4 juv)

1999 8 [5]

2009 13


Healthy (1981 &1988 - pre mining rehab –2004 in some areas)

Mining

3e. S of Eneabba

1999 1

2009 1


Not recorded

Road maintenance

weed invasion



3f. S of Eneabba

1998 2

1999 3


2009 5

Healthy (1998) post 1977/79 rehab in some areas

Mining

3g. S of Eneabba

1999 1

2009 1


Not recorded

Road maintenance

weed invasion



4a. SE of Eneabba

1991 0

1998 3


2009 3

Healthy (1987)

Wildfire (if too frequent)

4b.

1998 2

2009 1


Not recorded

Near Road Reserve

5. S of Eneabba

1998 1

2009 1


Healthy (1998)

Clearing, weed invasion

Numbers in [brackets] = number of live plants removed during mining operations.

Guide for decision-makers
Section 1 provides details of current and possible future threats. Any on-ground works (mining, clearing, firebreaks, roadworks etc) in the immediate vicinity of Leucopogon obtectus will require assessment. On-ground works should not be approved unless the proponents can demonstrate that they will not have an impact on the species, or on its habitat or potential habitat.
Habitat critical to the survival of the species, and important populations
The habitat critical to the survival of Leucopogon obtectus comprises the vegetation in which important populations occur; areas of similar habitat within 200 metres of known populations (i.e. kwongan heath - these provide potential habitat for natural range extension); remnant vegetation linking populations (this is necessary to allow pollinators to move between populations); the local catchment of surface and ground water that maintain the habitat of the species, and additional occurrences of similar habitat that may contain the species.



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