Taking the pulse of the Prom

Taking the pulse of the Prom

10 November 2011

published by www.abc.net.au

Australia — Scientists have just undertaken a major study of wildlife at Victoria’s Wilsons Promontory National Park and are thrilled and surprised by what they have found.

Despite bushfires and a huge rain storm earlier this year, researchers say they are impressed with the diversity and resilience of the Prom’s wildlife.

About 70 scientists and rangers from Museum Victoria and Parks Victoria spent the past two weeks combing the Prom from the hilltops to remote valleys, swamps, and even the ocean floor.

They found healthy populations of endangered freshwater fish, creatures never before recorded at the Prom and several moth species new to science.

The goal was to uncover the impacts of the “tsunami-like” storm that hit in March and of major bushfires of 2005 and 2009.

Museum Victoria’s head of sciences, Dr Mark Norman said it was pleasing to see the way the Prom had bounced back from flood and fire.

“We’re really excited by the health and the diversity of the wildlife that was there,” he said.

“They’ve had major fire and flood impacts over the past few years but it really showed the resilience of the Prom and its wildlife to bounce back.”

The survey was funded by the Victorian Government flood recovery fund and carried out by Museum Victoria scientists and Parks Victoria.

Wilsons Promontory is the most southern tip of the Australian mainland.

In past periods of lower sea levels, there was a continuous land bridge with Tasmania and scientists say the life recorded during their survey shows strong links with Tasmanian wildlife, particularly forest habitats.

Key findings

More than 700 animal species, including 500 insect and spider species, 95 bird species, 20 mammal species and nine freshwater fish species were discovered.

They found fossil remains of a kangaroo pelvis dating back to the Pleistocene era (between 10,000 and 100,000 years ago).

Ancient myrtle beech forests were discovered in a wilderness area known as Paradise Valley, which has never had a thorough scientific survey before.

Healthy populations of threatened species such as the River Blackfish were discovered.

There were healthy koala populations in blue gum swamp areas that survived the 2009 bushfire.

The snap shot study also found predatory land snails that devour other snails and fearsome-looking moth and spider species.

“The moth diversity was amazing. In just two weeks [we found] over 400 species in all sorts of shapes and sizes,” Dr Norman said.

An environmental scientist with Parks Victoria, Dr Mark Antos said he was thrilled to study the remote cool temperate myrtle beech forests.

“It was really exciting to actually see the scale of the ancient rainforests that still persist despite all the fire events and despite the flooding,” Dr Antos said.

Parks Victoria has left several remote-controlled cameras in the valley that it hopes will capture footage of rarer mammals including quolls and potoroos.

Scientists will continue to comb through the findings in coming weeks.

It is is expected the results will play a key role in future recovery work and environmental projects at the Prom.

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