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Bushfire 2016
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Does fire play a role in the Northern BristleBird Recovery?

Recent research by Zoe Stone of the University of Queensland has found that a loss of fire, particularly increased periods of individual fire absence strongly influenced habitat extent, and northern bristlebird persistence was more likely at sites with increased fire frequency. With reduced fire, this important grassy habitat is being lost to rainforest and weed encroachment.

Bristlebirds preferred habitat for nest building in Sorghum leiocladum image by Zoe Stone

Zoe has recently completed her PhD at the University of Queensland, which looked at habitat requirements and persistence of the northern population of the Eastern Bristlebird. “My thesis focussed on vegetation structure, invertebrate availability and fire within the grassy forest habitat that the bristlebirds occupy along the QLD-NSW border.” Zoe said.

Zoe found that the northern bristlebird is highly dependent on thick, tall grassy understory, and this habitat has been lost by over 50% in the region. Loss of fire, particularly increased periods of individual fire absence strongly influenced habitat extent, and northern bristlebird persistence was more likely at sites with increased fire frequency. With reduced fire, this important grassy habitat is being lost to rainforest and weed encroachment. 

Zoe Stone within BristleBird Habitat on the Queensland NSW border. 

Grassy forest habitat is not only important for northern bristlebirds, but is also habitat to a range of other threatened species. It is an important habitat type that is often undervalued next to its rainforest neighbour, and can therefore be mismanaged. Fire is an important tool for maintaining and improvising the condition of these systems, and Zoe hopes that her research will help highlight the plight of grassy forests in Australia, and why it’s important to conserve them. 
Prescribed burn on the NSW side of the NSW Queensland Border. Image by Zoe Stone

My PhD, along with previous work by the northern bristlebird working group has provided an excellent understanding of the threats acting on northern bristlebird and potential management actions. Following on from my PhD, I am now currently working on developing an emergency reintroduction response for the northern bristlebird. Recent habitat management work using prescribed burning and weed control has begun to restore areas of grassy forest, but low connectivity and a wild population of only 38 birds means additional action is needed. The northern working group has established a captive breeding program with the goal to introduce birds into the wild. For this we need a detailed strategy for captive breeding, reintroduction and habitat management to ensure reintroduction efforts are successful. The research is a collaborative project between The University of Queensland and NESP Threatened species Recovery Hub and will involve key partners: New South Wales Office of Environment & Heritage; the Queensland Department of Environment & Science; Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, Healthy land & water and Birdlife Southern Queensland. This reintroduction strategy will be completed by the end of 2018 to help guide the growing captive breeding program and allow appropriate site specific management to prepare habitat for reintroduction in the coming years.”   


You can contact Zoe for more information here: z.stone@uq.edu.au 

Zoe Stone collecting leaf litter as part of her research into fire and bristlebird habitat requirements. 

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