Biodiversity in a Greenfleet Forest Research Project
Monday 22nd of January 2018
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Bird expert Cara smiling in photo

Greenfleet & biodiversity

Our forests are more than just trees absorbing carbon. We see the incredible transformations, where native vegetation replaces bare land. But what is really going on “amongst” the trees? Biodiversity for one thing. What is biodiversity, you ask? Biodiversity is the shortened form of two words - "biological" and "diversity." It refers to all the variety of life that can be found on Earth (plants, animals, fungi and micro-organisms) as well as to the communities that they form and the habitats in which they live. 

Biodiversity is a key aspect of a healthy environment and forest. Our forests are supporting the return and growth of biodiversity aspects. They are creating habitat for wildlife, preventing soil salinity and reducing soil erosion. Before the land was run down from decades of farming and deforestation, the forest that stood provided an environment filled with living working ecosystems. We are committed to supporting biodiversity; that’s why our Forestry team works hard to identify the best local native species to be used for our revegetation projects. This ensures our forests grow well and restore biodiversity.

The study

In 2017, we teamed up with Cara Sambell, a PhD student from La Trobe University, to demonstrate the biodiversity values of one of our developing forests. With an interest in global patterns of rural landscape change and how birds respond to new ecosystems, Cara set out to monitor the activity and population of birds on one of our sites. The site chosen is in transition from cleared agricultural land to tall, dense temperate forest. Birds are used as indicators of biodiversity (amongst other indicators).

Cara is investigating bird species within different environmental settings. The aim is to understand the difference in the bird communities within each of these environmental settings. Three areas were chosen for the study: Wurneet Laang Laang (a Greenfleet reforestation site), an open farm and forest in the Mount Worth National Park.

The bird surveys

Within each site, 12 spots were selected for bird surveys. The survey points were located to systematically sample three common habitat elements: upper slope, gully, scattered trees. 

Counts and observations are undertaken twice per season, once in the morning and once in the afternoon. Observed bird species are categorised into five groups: forest, open tolerant species, open country species, waterbirds and exotic.

The results

Whilst Cara’s research is ongoing, the first results are in: “Throughout 144 observation days to date between Autumn, Winter and Spring 2017, a total of 71 bird species were sighted - 30 forest, 12 open tolerant, 13 open country, 9 waterbirds and 7 exotic species,” Cara said. “Most forest species were detected within the forest site and were relatively absent from the offset and farming sites. The small number of forest species seen in the offset and farming sites were notably located amongst the remnant trees (older trees that were never removed).”

"The first spring surveys indicate that the bird community present in Wurneet Laang Laang is currently typical of farmland in the region. Species such as the Australian Magpie and Australian Raven were most common, also the introduced Common Starling. The long grass in the site was being used by a couple of Nankeen Kestrels for hunting prey. Most species were using the scattered old gum trees in the site. In these patches of old trees, birds can find hollows or branches for nesting and shelter. Old native trees provide important refuge for birds in farmland right across the region. It will be interesting to see how this type of habitat improves in Wurneet Laang Laang, as the planted trees grow around them," Cara explained.

At this stage, 24 months after planting, our reforestation site shows biodiversity values more similar to pasture than to forest.

“Previous studies in Gippsland’s Strzelecki Ranges have found that in sites where a diverse range of indigenous plants have been re-established, changes in the bird community will occur over time as structural habitat complexity within the site develops” Cara concluded.

Next steps

The research will be conducted over the next four years. We look forward to providing you with regular updates on our biodiversity research work.