An article in the Age today shared the good news that the rare leafy liverwort Pedinophyllum monoicum survived the Black Saturday bushfire disaster in tiny remnants of Yarra Ranges rainforest. It was discovered through the Rainforest Recovery Project which is revisiting sites that were sampled prior to the fires.
This sort of work is critical to our understanding about how ecosystems recover - or don't - from bushfire. MV Curator of Hepetology, Jane Melville, received an Australian Research Council Linkage Grant in June this year to continue her work on the ecology, demography and genetics of frogs in the Kinglake region. A surprising number and diversity of frogs survived the February 2009 fires.
This field site in Toolangi was badly affected by bushfire, yet yielded an adult frog previously caught in 2008. It is thought that frogs survived the fire by hiding in and around bodies of water like this dam.
Image: Bec Bray
Source: Museum Victoria
Frogs and liverworts share one characteristic that make them particularly important indicators: they are very sensitive to drying out. Neither would survive a direct fire front but persist in unburnt pockets (or refugia) that offer protection. Long-term studies will monitor how the forests recover in coming years; since frogs are mobile, it is hoped that they will spread relatively quickly back into their former range. Rainforest plants generally aren't quite so responsive so we're very fortunate that this small, tender plant made it through the fires.
Type specimen of Pedinophyllum monoicum held at Te Papa Tongarewa
What is a liverwort? - Australian National Botanic Gardens