Unfortunately Christmas Island’s extremely unique ecosystem has experienced recent extinctions, with more species under threat.
“The cause of these declines is hard to determine because it could be so many things – the giant centipedes, wolf snakes, cats, rats or yellow crazy ants swarming the island,” says Doctor Eve McDonald-Madden from The University of Queensland.
“There are so many invasive species interacting - it’s amazing when you see a diagram actually showing all the threats.
“The Christmas Island flying fox has declined dramatically in recent years and the island’s lizards are also under threat. Of Christmas Island’s endemic lizards, there’s only the Giant Gecko left in the wild, with two other species surviving only in captivity - Lister’s gecko and the blue-tailed skink.”
Led by Doctor Eve McDonald-Madden and Professor John Woinarski, in close collaboration with Parks Australia, Project 2.3 will provide evidence and its interpretation to improve conservation outcomes on Christmas Island.
This will include whole-of-island spatial planning, strategies to support the eradication of feral cats and management of Christmas Island’s threatened flying fox and lizards.
“We’ll be working with the managers to develop and implement the project further. We’re also aiming to work with all of the island’s interest groups, including Parks Australia, the local Shire and other key stakeholders to develop a whole-of-island conservation assessment to help guide management priorities.
“There are already projects underway to manage cats on Christmas Island, supported by significant investment from the Federal and West Australian governments, and it’s possible that feral cats could be eradicated within two to five years.
“But this brings new challenges - cats are also a regulatory animal with other species (i.e. rats). If you remove them there’s the potential for other invasive species to increase in number which could end up being bad for native species. We’re now looking at monitoring and management options to help Parks Australia be on the front foot.
“It’s a complex environment because there’s so much uncertainty. We might think we know how giant centipedes interact with wolf snakes, but when you scale that up to understanding interactions between 20 different species, you need to use novel methods to make decisions.
“We also need to work out what to do with the two captive lizard populations and the best way to plan for their ultimate release back to the wild (on Christmas Island or elsewhere) in the future.
“Parks Australia has been very proactive in engaging with the research community to help inform their decisions. It’s a difficult place to manage as there are so many threats, many competing interests and difficult terrain, but the managers are striving for the best outcome for this spectacular place – hopefully we can help them with this goal.”
The four universities collaborating on this project are all offering different and necessary skills, explains Dr McDonald-Madden.
“The University of Melbourne is bringing its exceptional spatial analysis skills, and Charles Darwin University and the University of WA have a lot of expertise with threatened species.
“At the University of Queensland we’re bringing our expertise on modelling complex systems with uncertainty, and working closely with people who know a lot about management of cats to inform decision making in that really complex system.”
Many landscapes in Australia are fire-prone, and increasingly so. Altered fire regimes can have a serious negative impact on threatened plant species and ecological communities. A Threatened Species Recovery Hub project is working to better understand the effects of different fire regimes on threatened flora in order to improve fire management strategies and conservation outcomes.
Almost a quarter of Australia’s possums and gliders are listed as threatened under Australian environmental law, and many more are showing signs of decline. Dr Rochelle Steven from The University of Queensland believes people in the community can do a lot to support conservation, especially in urban areas.
The detection and monitoring of threatened species have been a strong area of research in the National Environmental Science Program and also the two national environmental research programs which preceded it. Hub Director Professor Brendan Wintle takes a look at what we’ve been achieving and why it is so important to the conservation of Australia’s threatened species.
In 2009, the Christmas Island blue-tailed skink and Lister’s gecko were headed for imminent extinction. Parks Australia acted quickly to collect remaining wild individuals in order to establish captive breeding programs on Christmas Island and at Taronga Zoo, Sydney, which have been highly successful. A Threatened Species Recovery Hub project team is working closely with Parks Australia to help secure a future for the two lizards beyond captivity.
The silver-headed antechinus and black-tailed dusky antechinus are carnivorous marsupials found in high-elevation forests in parts of central-eastern and south-eastern Queensland. They were only described in the past six years, but they are already listed as Endangered. Knowing where they occur is essential for effective conservation, but current distribution knowledge is patchy. To address this, PhD candidate Stephane Batista in partnership with the Queensland Herbarium and Queensland Department of Environment and Science is modelling the habitat where these threatened species are likely to occur, and is using detection dogs to rapidly survey these sites.