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DISPLAYING POSTS TAGGED: grampians (2)

Smoky mouse update

Author
by Phoebe Burns
Publish date
25 February 2014
Comments
Comments (3)

Phoebe is a University of Melbourne Masters student supervised by Dr. Kevin Rowe at MV. She is studying post-fire distribution and ecology of the Smoky Mouse in the Grampians National Park.

In September 2013, I moved to the Grampians, pitched a tent and set out to see how the endangered Smoky Mouse, Pseudomys fumeus, was faring in the aftermath of the February 2013 Victoria Valley fire. After three soot-covered months, I’m back in Melbourne enjoying modern comforts like showers and instant boiling water.

Grampians landscape Grampians landscape
Image: Phoebe Burns
Source: Museum Victoria
 

I began my surveys at the site where, prior to the fire, we found a healthy population of Smoky Mice in the November 2012 Museum Victoria Bioscan. By September regrowing bracken ferns and eucalypts added a splash of green to the blackened landscape. In spite of the devastation, I caught several healthy Smoky Mice including some of the same individuals we’d caught the previous November! The ecological significance of this discovery alone was cause to celebrate.

Adult Smoky Mouse Adult Smoky Mouse on a burnt log
Image: Phoebe Burns
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Between my first capture in September and my final trapping night in December, I surveyed 46 sites in and out of the burn scar across the Victoria Range in the Grampians. At six of those sites, all within the burn scar, I found Smoky Mice living in the rocky habitats. The mice in these populations were not just surviving, they were healthy and breeding. I caught adults weighing as much as 70 grams but I also found tiny juveniles newly emerged from the nest weighing only 12 grams.  

Juvenile Smoky Mouse Juvenile Smoky Mouse
Image: Phoebe Burns
Source: Museum Victoria
 

While I was looking to find Smoky Mice, my trapping methods meant I also caught a number of other small mammal species (and a few reptiles). I was lucky enough to encounter Swamp Rats, Rattus lutreolus, Heath Mice, Pseudomys shortridgei, Agile Antechinus, Antechinus agilis, and Dusky Antechinus, Antechinus swainsonii. The highlights of my small mammal by-catch were two tiny Eastern Pygmy Possums, Cercatus nanus, that found their way into my traps.

Eastern Pygmy Possum Adult female Eastern Pygmy Possum
Image: Phoebe Burns
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The last three months were physically and mentally challenging, hiking up mountainsides in the rain and hail, being snowed on one day and sweating in the heat the next, but it was worth every unpredictable minute. I feel so privileged to explore the beautiful, rugged wilderness of the Grampians National Park and to have encountered so many remarkable species. The Parks Victoria staff provided a wealth of logistical and emotional support. It’s great to know that our parks are in such capable hands and that the Smoky Mice of the Victoria Range are thriving in spite of the fires.

Links:

MV Blog: Smoky Mice in the Grampians

Southern Grasstree

Author
by Brendan
Publish date
1 April 2012
Comments
Comments (4)

Exhibition horticulturalist Brendan Fleming is turning April's Bug of the Month post into Plant of the Month. He is one of the Live Exhibits staff that tend the plants in the Forest Gallery and Milarri Garden.

From an early age I have enjoyed bushwalking within the Grampian Ranges in western Victoria. One particular plant species found there that fascinates me is Xanthorrhoea australis, the Southern Grasstree. X. australis is the most widespread of the genus of 30 odd species and subspecies. It is found down the eastern coast of Australia.

Southern Grasstrees A spectacular display of Southern Grasstrees following a bushfire in the Grampians.
Image: Brendan Fleming
Source: Brendan Fleming
 

Its appearance is unlike any other indigenous plant. Older grasstrees have a blackened, sometimes gnarled elevated trunk, with bluish-green whorled leaves that seem to explode from the crown and drape down to skirt the stem.

The Southern Grasstree is very slow-growing. It grows approximately one to three centimetres per year, reaching a height of three metres in about 100 years. It has a shallow root system and is found in even the poorest of soils. Whilst not generally occurring in areas with less than 250mm rainfall, it does best in areas exceeding 500mm per year. Southern Grasstrees are found in the understorey of woodlands, heaths, swamps, and rocky hillsides.

Grasstree species are mostly distinguished by the shape of their leaves in cross-section. X.australis has a diamond shape, and with the leaves being softer than other species.

apex of a Southern Grasstree Close up of the apex of a Southern Grasstree in Milarri, showing a single diamond-shaped leaf in cross section.
Image: Brendan Fleming
Source: Museum Victoria

From germination it takes about seven years to reach maturity, and although sporadic flowering and fruiting can occur thereafter, X.australis generally flower following fire. It is not well understood why fire stimulates reproduction, but cutting off the leaves can also initiate flowering. Application of ethylene, which is present in smoke, has a similar effect, indicating that flowering is stimulated from a hormonal response to leaf removal.

I found an extraordinary scene following bushfires several years ago in the Grampians National Park. Thousands of flower spikes up to 3m high as far as the eye can see, even curly ones, evoking some Leunig illustration!

Grasstree flower spikes Although most flower spikes are perfectly vertical, I occasionally see odd shapes at the Grampians.
Image: Brendan Fleming
Source: Brendan Fleming

The flowers are highly scented and produce much nectar, prized by birds, mammals and insects which pollinate the flowers. Each stalk can produce up to 10,000 seeds.

Southern Grasstree flower spike Close-up of the Southern Grasstree flower spike showing individual flowers.
Image: Brendan Fleming
Source: Brendan Fleming
 

Southern Grasstrees are quite susceptible to Phytopthora cinnamomi (root rot), often being the first plants to show symptoms. Hence they are a good indicator of the presence of the disease.

Drenching Southern Grasstree roots with Phosphonate Drenching with Phosphonate is a good way to boost the Southern Grasstree's defences against the Cinnamon Fungus Phytopthora.
Image: Chloe Miller
Source: Museum Victoria

Xanthorrhoea australis is not difficult to propagate. Seed germinate readily in just a few weeks, with no pre-sowing treatment required. Just be patient though - growth is very slow. A grasstree I germinated from seed was well-established but still trunkless after 10 years, and made a handsome addition to my garden.

Grasstrees feature heavily in Indigenous culture. Uses include weapons and fire sticks from flower stalks, sweet drinks from flower nectar, and edible leaf bases.

I don't have to go to the Grampians to enjoy grasstrees. The Milarri Garden at Melbourne Museum displays these remarkable plants right in the heart of Melbourne. Exit the Forest gallery to the North terrace and meet Milarri from its western end. It really is a dramatic entrance to the Museum's Indigenous garden.

Grasstrees at the entrance to Milarri Walk Grasstrees at the entrance to Milarri Walk from the North Terrace during autumn.
Image: Brendan Fleming
Source: Museum Victoria
 

References:

Flora of Tasmania

Wrigley, J. & Fagg, M., 1983, Australian Native Plants, William Collins, Sydney, 512pp.

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