Australia — WHEN bushfires swept through Victoria’s high country in 2006 and 2007, the extremely rare Timbertop Wattle faced being wiped out.
Before the fires just nine clusters of the plant first discovered in the late 1990s had been sighted, all just near Mount Timbertop in the alpine region. After the fires came through, only one above-ground plant remained.
Six years on, and with the nine clusters returning from root systems that survived the fires, naturalists are working on an insurance policy to ensure the species’ long-term existence.
Advertisement: Story continues below A major effort has been launched at the Euroa Arboretum to grow new plants and ensure a safe population out of harm’s way from future fires.
Rowhan Marshall, a biodiversity officer with the Department of Sustainability and Environment, said the vulnerable Timbertop Wattle had an interesting relationship with fire.
“The fires came through and decimated all the mature plants except for one, which was up in a rocky outcrop,” he said.
“But what happened [is that] like a number of Acacia species, the root system underground survived the fire because it was protected and a lot of suckering went on so the populations have actually increased.”
But Mr Marshall said too much fire, too quickly, and the species might not recover again.
“The issue is we are unsure how frequently we can have a disturbance like that to the landscape,” he said. “If we had another fire through those populations, obviously those plants are quite juvenile and we don’t know how they’d respond.”
In response to that threat Mr Marshall said a number of cuttings from the existing clusters have been used to grow Timbertop Wattle plants at the Euroa Arboretum to ensure a stable population away from a fire-prone area.
Another problem naturalists are trying to overcome is potential genetic decline of the species. The arboretum’s Cathy Olive said the existing plants in the wild appeared to be sterile, not producing any seed.
Ms Olive said the arboretum was trying to cross-pollinate trees from different genetic strands to create a robust population that would start reproducing with seed.