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Regenerating the Feather-leaved Banksia

Blog Post - Regenerating the Feather-leaved Banksia

Written by Rebecca Dillon, Research Scientist, DPaW.

In 2015 FNPW granted $14,620 to the Department of Parks and Wildlife (DPaW) in Western Australia to prevent the extinction of the Feather-leaved Banksia.

A population of the critically endangered Feather-leaved Banksia in Western Australia is currently undergoing major decline. The area in which the population occurs is long unburnt and largely consists of very old plants that are senescing (deteriorating with age) and becoming vulnerable to attack from aerial cankers (fungi).

In 2003 150 plants grew in the wild, but now only 50 plants remain, and their seed production is declining. A lack of fire has allowed these populations to age beyond their prime and become susceptible to disease.

Although seeds are usually held within cones in the canopy until fire causes them to open, dying limbs and plants are now releasing their seed. Despite the seed fall, no recruits have been recorded and it is assumed that fire is required to provide the appropriate conditions for germination. Therefore, if left to continue upon its current trajectory, the population will become extinct.

Our project involves undertaking a regeneration burn, monitoring seedling recruitment and the occurrence of fungus within the regenerating community.

We are also looking at the biology and fire response of Trioza barrettae, a host specific plant louse (winged insect). The louse only occurs on Feather-leaved Banksia and population numbers decrease with increasing plant age. Prior to the fire, a proportion of the louse population will be translocated to safe sites and returned once new seedlings had established. Population survival and growth will be monitored.

The project has progressed well so far. Entomologist, Melinda Moir recently visited our senescing population to capture Trioza barrettae individuals for relocation. Seven adults were caught and released onto healthy translocated plants. The following week the planned burn took place successfully. This planned burn will hopefully reduce populations of the aerial canker causing fungi and stimulate the recruitment of Feather-leaved Banksia seedlings.

This project will provide much needed information on the use of fire to manage populations of threatened plants that are infected with fungi. It will also be the first opportunity to investigate the fire response of the endemic louse species, Trioza barrettae.

A typical day working on this project might involve counting Banksia plants and cones, seed collection, organising permits for burning and taking threatened species, capturing Trioza barrattae and monitoring the post fire outcomes.

It has been wonderful to observe the skill of fire operations staff from DPaW, Albany City Council and the local bushfire brigades in conducting a safe and strategic burn.

Western Australia’s threatened species are unique and precious and it is paramount that we utilise good science-based management to ensure their persistence for future generations. Thank you FNPW for assisting with this important project.

 

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