Significant investments in the Otway Ranges have allowed Dr Barbara Wilson and her team of expert ecologists to undertake surveys for important threatened mammals like the Swamp Antechinus, Southern Brown Bandicoot, and iconic species such as the Long-Nosed Bandicoot in areas that previously had little information.
Dr Barbara Wilson Pty Ld. earlier work showed a dramatic decline in threatened mammal populations between 2010 to 2020. Many areas in the eastern Otway’s are entirely devoid of small mammal populations, and her team of expert ecologists are urgently trying to identify any refuges in the landscape where healthy populations of small mammals still exist as part of the Small Mammal Conservation project delivered under the Wild Otways Initiative.
The Australian Government’s Wild Otways Initiative commenced in 2020 as a three-year $6M commitment to achieving on-ground outcomes that improve the protection and management of threatened species in the Otways.
The most recent findings from the Small Mammal Conservation project are showing what Dr Mark Garkaklis describes as “remarkable results” with camera trapping results from Coalmine Creek identifying important species such as the swamp antechinus, southern brown bandicoot, and long-nosed bandicoot.
Dr Mark Garkaklis said, “The current funding provided through the Initiative means we have expanded our surveying significantly. Identifying really healthy populations of bandicoots in the Dunes and gullies is a very important result. Bandicoots are called ‘Ecosystem Engineers’ because of the way their digging and foraging cultivates the soils in their habitats and improves the condition of native flora and fungi”.
Despite the benefits of having these native species find refuge in these coastal dunes, further surveys have shown that introduced foxes and cats are now using and breeding in these dunes and gullies.
Dr Mark Garkaklis says, “This is a huge problem. We know that these introduced predators will kill bandicoots and other natives in time. Controlling feral foxes and cats in these dunes will be challenging. However, we are working closely with our colleagues at Parks Victoria, the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP), and the Conservation Ecology Centre (CEC) to look at options we have available in dealing with this serious threat”.
Dr Mark Garkaklis continued, “An immediate solution is protecting existing habitat. The very thick and dense vegetation of the dune provides habitat for native species, which helps protect them from predators. In addition, by managing weeds and helping people understand the importance of coastal vegetation, we help protect the animals that live in the dunes from being killed”.
The Corangamite CMA’s Bellarine and Great Ocean Road Dunecare Initiative is building greater understanding and knowledge of the importance of coastal dunes through the Dunecare Stewardship program. The Dunecare Stewardship program targets year 9 and 10 students in Geelong, the Bellarine Peninsula and Surf Coast and builds on student and local community stewardship for local dune conservation and flora and fauna conservation.
The Small Mammal Conservation project will continue widening surveys with more work on the Coast. The project team is currently taking preliminary surveys at Kennett River and Grey River. This work will extend to Skenes Creek, Cape Otway, and Princetown over the coming year.
This project is supported by the Corangamite CMA, through funding from the Australian Government’s Environment Restoration Fund. This project will run until 2023.