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National recovery plan for the yellow-bellied glider (Wet Tropics) Petaurus australis unnamed subspecies Title


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Clearing and fragmentation of habitat (moderate)

In the past, Wet Tropics wet eucalypt open forests were subjected to clearing and disturbance for forestry and agriculture, especially in the Herberton-Ravenshoe area. Few areas are likely to have been unaffected, although Little Daintree and Mt Spurgeon have remained un-logged. There has also been habitat clearing associated with road construction and powerlines. Logging and habitat clearing has largely ceased for commercial purposes. However, there is still some commercial logging activity occurring in the glider’s habitat (e.g. Tumoulin State Forest).


Most new clearing is associated with rural residential activity. There is also the potential for individual feeding trees to be lost as a result of poisoning by energy companies while maintaining the powerlines in glider habitat (such as at Mt Baldy and Herberton Range). Habitat clearing is likely to have influenced fire regimes by fragmenting tracts of forest, and in the case of forestry activity, altering forest structure.
Likely impacts on the glider from habitat clearing include:

  • habitat loss (including dens)

  • loss of individuals

  • habitat fragmentation

Most glider habitat (80%) is within the WTWHA. Habitat outside the protected area estate but within the WTWHA is protected from future clearing (although clearing for non-forestry related purposes (e.g. for grazing) may be allowed on freehold land only if it is not remnant vegetation nor high value regrowth as defined under the Vegetation Management Act 1999) and forestry activities. Habitat on protected area estate (e.g. national parks) found inside and outside the WTWHA has even greater legislative protection. However habitat and former habitat (now cleared) that is on private land and in state forest outside the WTWHA (e.g. Mt Baldy near Atherton) are less protected although remnant vegetation and high value regrowth vegetation as defined under the Vegetation Management Act 1999 cannot be cleared or recleared. While logging prescriptions (via the Code of Practice for Native Forest Timber Production on state lands (Environmental Protection Agency 2007) and associated harvesting plan mechanisms) afford a measure of protection to the yellow-bellied glider (Wet Tropics), there remains some risk of habitat disturbance associated with timber harvesting (Winter 2000).


Grazing regime (minor)

Wet Tropics wet eucalypt open forests with a grassy understorey have a long history of use for cattle grazing. With the introduction of the WTWHA and a reduction in the number of grazing leases on state land (e.g. Mt Windsor Tableland State Forest grazing lease not renewed), cattle grazing has been much reduced. However, it continues to occur in habitat on freehold land and inadequate fencing and the presence of feral cattle results in continued grazing pressure on parts of protected area estate.


Grazing by cattle may have multiple impacts on habitat understorey. Perhaps the greatest impact is through the fire regimes deliberately implemented by graziers to promote ‘green pick’, especially cool burns at the end of the wet season. Frequent burning to promote green pick eliminates the shrub layer and promotes a simplified understorey comprising of a grassy field layer. Cattle are also likely to influence fire regimes by consuming fine fuels, altering the structure and composition of the understorey through selectively grazing the most palatable vegetation, and disturbing soils perhaps facilitating weed invasion (woody weeds like lantana and non-native grasses). The combined influence of cattle is to reduce the prevalence of fire regimes that facilitate yellow-bellied glider (Wet Tropics) habitat components (i.e. prevent their regeneration). The likely impact on the glider from cattle grazing is habitat alteration (especially rainforest encroachment).
Barbed wire fencing (minor)

Barbed wire fences are generally associated with cattle grazing operations, constructed by either the grazier to contain cattle, or by adjacent landholders to restrict cattle from entering their land. Entanglement in barbed wire is a threat to wildlife generally (Booth 2007) and has caused the death of yellow-bellied gliders (Wet Tropics). It is presumed that the yellow-bellied glider (Wet Tropics) entangles in barbed wire while gliding. An entangled animal is likely to die from dehydration, starvation or predation. It is possible that animals encountering (but not becoming entangled in) barbed wire receive injuries to their delicate gliding flaps (patagia).


The likely impact on the glider from injury by, or entanglement in, barbed wire fences is loss of individuals.
The extent of mortality caused by entanglement with or injury by barbed wire is unknown. Incidents have been reported and the impact on populations is likely to be localised. However, in the early 1990s seven carcasses were removed over several days from a 2 km stretch of barbed wire running through prime habitat at Mt Carbine Tableland (R. Russell, pers. comm.). Areas where barbed wire fencing occurs through prime habitat, or adjacent to forest gaps that are traversed by the glider (such as roads), may present a higher entanglement risk.

Climate change (unknown)

Anthropogenic activity is contributing to global climate change (Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council 2004) and it is believed that montane or upland areas will be particularly affected. Whilst there is considerable general modelling of climate change, and some specifically considering Wet Tropics habitat (e.g. Hilbert et al. 2001), current modelling may be too simplistic to offer realistic predictions in the topographically complex Wet Tropics.


Climate change is likely to influence the distribution of habitat, through the migration of bioclimates that support habitat, and by influencing fire regimes. The wet eucalypt open forest habitat is a narrow ecotone between rainforest and dry open forest, and the distribution and availability of this niche could ‘migrate’ or be eliminated. Areas which now support dry sclerophyll forest have soils that are unsuitable for the development of wet sclerophyll forest.
Possible impacts on the glider from climate change include:

  • habitat loss (including dens)

  • habitat alteration (especially rainforest encroachment and change in phenological patterns)

  • habitat fragmentation


Areas and subpopulations under threat

Population and habitat knowledge is not sufficient to identify specific areas of habitat or subpopulations under highest threat. However, areas and/or subpopulations under threat generally may include:



  • areas where habitat has a low number of potential den trees or den tree recruits;

  • habitat on private land;

  • areas with the fastest rates of rainforest encroachment;

  • areas with poor connectivity to current and predicted habitat; and

  • areas with fragmented habitats and associated population effects.

Areas with low numbers of potential den trees and habitat on private land may be under the most imminent risk. Sub-populations that are small and localised have a lower chance of remaining viable over the long-term. These populations are also likely to be more impacted by stochastic events.



4. Recovery objectives, performance criteria and actions

Overall objective

To manage the impact of threatening processes on yellow-bellied gliders (Wet Tropics) to protect and recover populations throughout their range.



Objective 1 – Determine essential habitat

Action 1.1 – Define essential habitat distribution

Rationale – Regional ecosystem mapping undertaken by the Queensland Herbarium (Queensland Herbarium 2005) forms the legal basis of vegetation protection in Queensland. The Wet Tropics regional ecosystem mapping (Queensland Herbarium and Wet Tropics Management Authority 2005) is a subset of this, and is derived from the work of Stanton and Stanton (2005). Harrington et al. (2005) have also spatially defined vegetation of the western Wet Tropics, concentrating on the wet sclerophyll forests.
Existing mapping resources and locality records of the yellow-bellied glider (Wet Tropics) will provide the basis for creating a spatial definition of essential habitat (under the Vegetation Management Act 1999). This layer together with other statutory planning mechanisms will inform land use planning and habitat protection initiatives. It will also provide a basis for on-ground species management decisions and research methodology. A preliminary potential habitat map has been developed by DERM as the first step in this process (Figure 1). Maps will be assessed to identify essential habitat and used to guide management of the yellow-bellied glider.
Performance criterion 1.1.1 – Essential habitat map produced and made available to all relevant stakeholders.

Potential contributors DERM, WTMA, Cook Shire Council and Cairns, Tablelands and Cassowary Coast regional councils.

Objective 2 – Implement fire regimes to maintain essential habitat and control rainforest expansion on protected area estate

Action 2.1 – Implement adaptive fire management for yellow-bellied glider (Wet Tropics)

Rationale – The majority of habitat (over 80%) is in protected area estate. The future of the yellow-bellied glider (Wet Tropics) is intimately linked to the persistence of wet eucalypt open forest. The encroachment of rainforest may limit eucalypt regeneration. While encroached habitat may currently provide den and feed trees, the lack of regeneration may affect long-term availability.
Documentation of rainforest encroachment and factors influencing the process is vital to guiding successful habitat management. It is widely considered that reduced fire frequency/intensity may have facilitated the encroachment, but forest use for grazing and forestry, and fire breaks in the form of roads and power easements are also likely to have had some influence.
Analysis of existing vegetation mapping (e.g. Harrington et al. 2005, Queensland Herbarium and Wet Tropics Management Authority 2005, Stanton and Stanton 2005), land use history, climatic data and geomorphology will allow a better understanding of rainforest encroachment. Habitat must be sustainable in distribution and succession and a more targeted and/or extensive use of fire may be essential.
The initiation and ongoing use of habitat monitoring in response to fire, using an adaptive management approach will allow knowledge to be gained and refined, while allowing immediate on-ground actions. Monitoring habitat response to various fire management strategies over a lengthy period is the only reliable way to increase ecological understanding of fire and rainforest encroachment. Monitoring could occur at the sub-catchment level (10 - 40 ha) using aerial photos and/or long transects (c. 500 m in length). The DERM QPWS Planned Burn Guidelines for the Wet Tropics Bioregion, Queensland should be used to help inform burning practices.
Performance criterion 2.1.1 – Analysis of rainforest encroachment dynamics documented and made available to relevant stakeholders (e.g. report submitted on DERM’s Recovery Actions Database).

Performance criterion 2.1.2 – Habitat response to fire management assessed and monitored.

Potential contributors – DERM, CSIRO, research organisations such as JCU, Marine and Tropical Sciences Research Facility (MTSRF), and Reef and Rainforest Research Centre Limited (RRRC), WTMA, DSEWPaC, ARC, GAC, TKMG private landholders, Cook Shire Council, Cairns, Tablelands and Cassowary Coast regional councils, field naturalists, private sanctuary managers such as AWC.
Objective 3 – Protect and manage habitat outside protected area estate

Action 3.1 – Facilitate the protection and management of habitat outside protected area estate

Rationale – While most existing habitat is in protected area estate, some habitat and former habitat (now cleared) is under other jurisdictions – predominantly state land (tenures including state leasehold and state forest) and some freehold (approximately 2000 ha of mapped glider habitat).

State owned forest covers approximately 20% of the glider’s known habitat. Some of this forested area may still be subject to timber logging. Timber logging in these forests needs to be managed to prevent disturbance to critical glider habitat. This could include a reassessment of the Code of Practice for Native Forest Timber Production to ensure that it identifies practices that prevent the disturbance of glider habitat. An example may include, re-assessing the buffer zones for logging around food and nesting trees.


Land used for powerlines can be managed through permits issued under the Nature Conservation Act 1992 to ensure the conservation of glider habitat, including the identification and protection of feed and den trees.
Performance criterion 3.1.1 – An extension program to encourage and support landholders/land managers to better manage glider habitat implemented.

Potential contributors DERM, Terrain NRM, community conservation groups, Cook Shire Council, Cairns, Tablelands and Cassowary Coast regional councils, private landholders, private sanctuary managers such as AWC, Bush Heritage Australia volunteers.
Action 3.2 – Regenerate habitat corridors between existing glider habitat

Rationale – Habitat connectivity is a vital requirement for improving conservation prospects by minimising inbreeding and allowing supplementation and recolonisation of subpopulations. Yellow-bellied glider (Wet Tropics) habitat is somewhat discontinuous throughout its range, with some of this caused or exacerbated by past clearing of vegetation.
The habitat discontinuity could be addressed through creating effective habitat corridors in areas where fragmentation has been due to clearing. The use of glider poles and / or artificial hollows may be incorporated into the habitat to increase continuity. Areas need to be identified and prioritised for on ground rehabilitation work. The use of maps and genetic data (Action 5.2) may assist in understanding glider movement patterns in fragmented landscapes.
Performance criterion 3.2.1 – Areas where habitat corridors may be created are identified.

Performance criterion 3.2.2 – Habitat regeneration initiated.

Potential contributors community conservation groups, Terrain NRM, DERM, WTMA, Cook Shire Council, Cairns, Tablelands and Cassowary Coast regional councils, private landholders, Trees for the Evelyn and Atherton Tableland (TREAT) and Tree Kangaroo and Mammal Group (TKMG).

Objective 4 – Research the impacts of cattle and barbed wire on gliders and glider habitat

Action 4.1 – Conduct research into the impacts of cattle on glider habitat

Rationale – The grassy understorey of the Wet Tropics wet eucalypt open forests have a long history of cattle grazing. There has been a reduction in the number of grazing leases on state land, however cattle continue to occur in some glider habitat and their full impact on gliders is unknown.
Historically cattle graziers use fire to promote ‘green pick’, especially cool burns at the end of the wet season. These frequent fires can eliminate the shrub layer and promote a simplified understorey comprising of a grassy field layer. Cattle may also disturb soil through erosion, facilitate weed invasion and alter the essential habitat for the yellow-bellied glider.
A thorough understanding of the impacts of cattle on glider habitat is required to ensure an appropriate management strategy is implemented. Communication with landholders associated with operations will be necessary to gain understanding and cooperation for cattle management actions. Consideration of the interests of Indigenous people will be important.
Performance criterion 4.1.1 – Research into the impacts of cattle on glider habitat is undertaken.

Potential contributors WTMA, DERM, research institutions, Terrain NRM, DEEDI, private landholders, private sanctuary managers such as AWC.
Action 4.2 – Collate existing data on yellow-bellied glider (Wet Tropics) barbed wire incidents and establish a reporting process through WildNet.

Rationale – No mechanism currently exists for centralised data capture on yellow-bellied glider (Wet Tropics) and barbed wire incidents. Establishing a process in which wildlife carer groups can report barbed wired incidents through WildNet will be important in understanding the impact barbed wire might have on the species. Where possible, historical data will be collated from the wildlife carer groups in order to implement Action 4.3.
Performance criterion 4.2.1 Reporting mechanism established and used by wildlife carer groups to report yellow-bellied glider (Wet Tropics) barbed wire incidents.

Potential contributors – DERM, Research institutions, local wildlife carer groups, RSPCA, Terrain NRM.
Action 4.3 – Analyse yellow-bellied glider (Wet Tropics) barbed wire incident data to establish level of impact and identify potential hotspot locations for management.

Rationale – Little is known about the level of impact bared wire entanglements have on yellow-bellied glider (Wet Tropics) populations. By analysing the information collected under Action 4.2 we will gain a better understanding of the impacts of barbed wire and the identification of potential hotspot locations for targeted management (Action 4.4).
Performance criterion 4.3.1 - Level of impact of barbed wire on yellow-bellied glider (Wet Tropics) populations is determined and potential hotspot locations are identified for management.

Potential contributors – DERM local wildlife carer groups, RSPCA, Terrain NRM, WTMA, research institutions
Action 4.4 – Implement an extension program for landholders on appropriate grazing regimes and fencing modification in glider habitat

Rationale – An education program to provide information on the impacts that grazing can have on glider habitat and the impact of barbed wire on gliders to be implemented. Encourage graziers to implement appropriate grazing regimes, as well as minimise the use of barbed wire in known glider habitat, so as to reduce the impacts on the yellow-bellied glider and its habitat.
Performance criterion 4.4.1 – An extension program for graziers implemented.

Performance criterion 4.4.2 – Barbed wire removed from fences in locations where gliders are found to be affected.

Potential contributors WTMA, DERM, Terrain NRM, DEEDI, Cook Shire Council, Cairns, Tablelands and Cassowary Coast regional councils, private landholders, community conservation groups, private sanctuary managers such as AWC.

Objective 5 – Assess and monitor glider populations

Action 5.1 – Undertake a monitoring program to assess the number of gliders in known habitat

Rationale – To date little is known about the yellow-bellied glider (Wet Tropics) population structure. Data is required to determine subpopulations that comprise smaller disjunct units; isolated population numbers due to habitat fragmentation; and barriers to gene flow.
Performance criterion 5.1 – Glider monitoring programs implemented to assess population numbers.

Potential contributors – DERM, Terrain NRM, CSIRO, research institutes such as JCU, MTSRF and RRRC.
Action 5.2 – Conduct genetic analysis of the yellow-bellied glider (Wet Tropics) population

Rationale – Very little genetic work has been done on the yellow-bellied glider (Wet Tropics). While three subpopulations of the yellow-bellied glider (Wet Tropics) are identified, little is known about the glider’s population structure. No comprehensive data exist to determine:

  1. the extent to which these subpopulations might comprise smaller disjunct units

  2. the extent to which fragmentation has isolated subpopulations

  3. the barriers to dispersal and gene flow

Knowledge of genetic structure of the population can provide important insights into the population to allow appropriate management (Action 5.1).
Performance criterion 5.2 – Genetic structure of the yellow-bellied glider (Wet Tropics) population assessed with recommended management implications provided to relevant stakeholders.

Potential contributors – DERM, Terrain NRM, CSIRO, research institutes such as JCU, MTSRF and RRRC.

Objective 6 – Improve understanding of climate change impacts

Action 6.1 – Investigate impacts of climate change on glider habitat

Rationale – Narrow ecotonal habitats such as Wet Tropics wet eucalypt open forest are likely to experience a significant distribution shift with climate change due to altered bioclimatic regimes. Predicting land conducive to supporting wet eucalypt open forest under new climatic regimes is important in planning for habitat persistence. Facilitating identification and support for landscape corridors and habitat ‘stepping stones’ to significant/long-term refugia will improve likelihood of survival. Understanding current land use and ownership is important to developing strategies to facilitate the migration of this habitat. Landscape corridors facilitate the natural movement of species and ecosystems, and add ecological and evolutionary resilience to landscapes. The capacity and approach to achieving landscape corridors is dependent upon the ability to influence land management. Existing Wet Tropics climate change models could be calibrated to focus on the requirements of wet eucalypt open forest.
Performance criterion 6.1.1 – Impacts of climate change on glider habitat investigated.

Potential contributors – CSIRO, research organisations such as JCU, MTSRF and RRRC, WTMA, DERM.

Actions summary table - Pa = Priority ranking 1 = High priority, 2 = Medium priority, 3 = Low priority.


Objective

Action

Performance Criteria

Potential contributors

Pa

1. Determine essential habitat

1.1 Define essential habitat distribution.


1.1.1 Essential habitat map produced and made available to all relevant stakeholders.


DERM, WTMA, Cook Shire Council and Cairns, Tablelands and Cassowary Coast regional councils.


1


2. Implement fire regimes to maintain essential habitat and control rainforest expansion on protected area estate

2.1 Implement adaptive fire management for yellow-bellied glider (Wet Tropics).


2.1.1 Analysis of rainforest encroachment dynamics documented and made available to relevant stakeholders (e.g. report submitted on DERM’s Recovery Actions Database).

DERM, CSIRO, research organisations such as JCU, MTSRF and RRRC, WTMA, ARC, DSEWPaC, GAC, private landholders, Cook Shire Council, Cairns, Tablelands and Cassowary Coast regional councils, field naturalists, private sanctuary managers such as AWC, volunteers.

1


2.1.2 Habitat response to fire management assessed and monitored.

3. Protect and manage habitat outside protected area estate

3.1 Facilitate the protection and management of habitat outside protected area estate.

3.1.1 An extension program to encourage and support landholders/land managers to better manage glider habitat implemented.

DERM, Terrain NRM, community conservation groups, Tablelands Regional Council, private landholders, private sanctuary managers such as AWC, BHA volunteers.

2

3.2 Regenerate habitat corridors between existing glider habitat.


3.2.1 Areas where habitat corridors may be created are identified.


Community conservation groups, Terrain NRM, DERM, WTMA, Cook Shire Council, Cairns, Tablelands and Cassowary Coast regional councils, private landholders, TREAT, and TKMG.

2

3.2.2 Habitat regeneration initiated.

4. Research the impact of cattle and barbed wire on gliders and glider habitat

4.1 Conduct research into the impacts of cattle on glider habitat.


4.1.1 Research into the impacts of cattle on glider habitat is undertaken.

WTMA, DERM, research institutions, Terrain NRM, private landholders, private sanctuary managers such as AWC, DEEDI.

3

4.2 Collate existing data on yellow-bellied glider (Wet Tropics) barbed wire incidents and establish a reporting process through WildNet.


4.2.1 Reporting mechanism established and used by wildlife carer groups to report yellow-bellied glider (Wet Tropics) barbed wire incidents.

DERM WildNet, local wildlife carer groups, RSPCA, Terrain NRM.

4.3 Analyse yellow-bellied glider (Wet Tropics) barbed wire incident data to establish level of impact and identify potential hotspot locations for management.

4.3.1 Level of impact of barbed wire on yellow-bellied glider (Wet Tropics) populations is determined and potential hotspot locations are identified for management.

DERM, local wildlife carer groups, RSPCA, Terrain NRM, WTMA, research institutions

4.4 Implement an extension program for landholders on appropriate grazing regimes and fencing modification in glider habitat.

4.4.1 An extension program for graziers implemented.

WTMA, DERM, Terrain NRM, Cook Shire Council, Cairns, Tablelands and Cassowary Coast regional councils, community conservation groups, DEEDI, private landholders, private sanctuary managers such as AWC.

2

4.4.2 Barbed wire removed from fences in locations where gliders are found to be affected.


5. Assess and monitor glider populations

5.1 Undertake a monitoring program to assess the number of gliders in known habitat


5.1.1 Glider monitoring programs implemented to assess population numbers.

DERM, Terrain NRM, CSIRO, research institutes such as JCU, MTSRF and RRRC.


1

5.2 Conduct genetic analysis of yellow-bellied (Wet Tropics) population

5.2.1 Genetic structure of the yellow-bellied glider (Wet Tropics) population assessed with recommended management implications provided to relevant stakeholders.

2

6. Improve understanding of climate change impacts

6.1 Investigate impacts of climate change on glider habitat.


6.1.1 Impacts of climate change on glider habitat investigated.


CSIRO, research organisations such as JCU, MTSRF and RRRC, WTMA, DERM.

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