New look in post-pest era

Mercury (Hobart) - - NEWSFRONT - ALEX LUT­TRELL

SCI­EN­TISTS who helped erad­i­cate pests on Mac­quarie Is­land are re­turn­ing to the sub-Antarc­tic isle to mon­i­tor how the com­plex ecosys­tem is re­cov­er­ing.

In­sti­tute for Ma­rine and Antarc­tic Stud­ies re­searchers Julie McInnes and Toby Travers have ar­rived on the is­land to mon­i­tor its re­cov­ery af­ter a five-year, $25 mil­lion pro­gram to erad­i­cate rab­bits, rats and mice fin­ished in 2014.

The pair, who are work­ing with Jeremy Bird for the Threat­ened Species Re­cov­ery Hub, re­cently ar­rived af­ter a 1500km jour­ney from Ho­bart on the French ice­breaker L’Astro­labe. An up­date on the World Her­itage Listed is­land’s ecosys­tem, which in­cludes 300 na­tive and 50 non-na­tive in­ver­te­brate species, is ex­pected soon.

Mr Bird will ex­am­ine how bur­row­ing pe­trels are re­cov­er­ing with­out ro­dents. Mr Travers will eval­u­ate how preda­tory bird the skua is im­pacted with­out rab­bits as a main food source and whether it tar­gets other an­i­mals.

Ms McInnes will mon­i­tor both projects. Re­searchers will also eval­u­ate flora re­cov­ery since rab­bits were no longer around to eat plants.

Join­ing them in Jan­uary will be Univer­sity of Queens­land PhD stu­dent Melissa Houghton for her final in­ver­te­brate sur­vey. She will study in­ter­ac­tions be­tween the is­land’s many na­tive and non­na­tive species to de­ter­mine how its com­plex ecosys­tem is re­cov­er­ing and chang­ing since the erad­i­ca­tion.

Ms Houghton has just re­ceived the Aus­tralian Academy of Sci­ence Max Day En­vi­ron­men­tal Sci­ence Fel­low­ship Award for her in­volve­ment in the erad­i­ca­tion as a dog han­dler, with hunters and bait­ing also in­volved.

She said pre­lim­i­nary find­ings of re­cov­ery had shown an in­crease in spi­ders, tus­sock grass, alpine daisies and Mac­quarie Is­land cab­bage. A good out­look for birds was also ex­pected.

Ms Houghton said find­ings from the re­search would al­low for bet­ter con­ser­va­tion man­age­ment de­ci­sions and bio­di­ver­sity in­vest­ment.

“The signs are good for this project,” she said. “The re­cov­ery long term is ex­pected to be good, par­tic­u­larly for birds.”

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