Leader: Dr Stephen Garnett, Queensland Environmental Protection
Summary | Research results | Outputs |
Future directions |
This project examined the ecology of the gouldian finch and the
partridge pigeon — granivorous birds of the savannas.
These birds depend on an essential feature of savannas, the
seed-producing annual and perennial grasses that also support
grazing, one of the savannas' major production activities. The
central aim of the project was to use the birds as a model to
explore interactions between savanna wildlife and land use
dependent on the health of the same resource, and so develop
principles for land management capable of sustaining both natural
and production systems.
This project is now complete and has shown that many granivorous
birds have declined markedly in range and abundance. To understand
the factors affecting their status requires an examination of
fundamental processes in grassland dynamics, and how those dynamics
change with different land-use intensity or with the application of
management tools such as fire.
Since this research project began in 1996, a draft management
program for the gouldian finch has been prepared and accepted by
the Northern Territory Government. Geographic Information System
(GIS) coverages of relevant habitat features at Yinberrie Hills is
complete, and well advanced at Newry Station in the Northern
A methodology was established for data collection and analysis.
Linkages to models of grassland dynamics were developed.
This project has important links to other TS-CRC projects,
especially Fire and Savanna Landscapes . Logistical and
cost-sharing links with that project include complementary
purchases of satellite imagery for the provision of relevant fire
histories, and collection of data on fire extent and intensity for
ground-truthing satellite imagery. Interpretation of patterning of
grassland resources are being assisted by the long-term analysis of
vegetation response to fire being gathered in a variety of savanna
types under that project.
In addition, the land condition studies underpinning the project
Indicators of Landscape Health will provide data on density
of perennial grasses in pastoral landscapes. These data will
provide an additional perspective on the availability of favourable
high-density patches in landscapes of different types and the
effects of grazing on those patches.
Other work completed includes:
- A comprehensive, savanna-wide review of the conservation status
of all species of birds that are substantially dependent on seeds
for at least part of the year. An analysis of change in reporting
rates through time showed that 29 per cent are now much less
commonly encountered than previously, and that the total area of
the savannas from which they were reported had also
- Ecological attributes were identified that are common to those
birds that have clearly declined in range and abundance.
Researchers examined behaviour such as where birds build nests, the
size of clutches, feeding mode and diet, but found the only
characteristic closely associated with decline was the habit of
feeding on the ground.
- Description, at a range of spatial scales, of grassland and
woody species patterning in sites used by gouldian finches for
wet-season feeding. Preliminary results indicate that foraging
areas support relatively higher densities of these plants than the
wider landscape, often clumped into patches exceeding 50 metres
- Field studies were completed of home range and features of
habitat used by the partridge pigeon throughout the year.
- Completion of experimental field studies of depredation of
artificial ground nests and observations of patterns of loss of
genuine partridge pigeon nests. Observations and evidence of
predators taking nests suggests that losses were primarily due to
native predators and that disturbances associated with roads,
tracks or firebreaks are unlikely to cause increased rates of nest
A database was assembled of more than 60,000 historical and
contemporary records of bird distributions. Associated outcomes
include studies of biogeographic patterns at the national scale,
confirming the existence of a distinct 'savanna' community of
granivorous birds. The robust identification of those species that
have undergone decline has facilitated the design of new projects
that take advantage of the geographic variation in status.
Collaborative studies with the Queensland Environmental Protection
Agency will allow researchers to more rigorously explore changes
implicated in loss of species. This should permit a robust
identification of characteristics of 'healthy' savannas and the
potential to develop corrective management responses.
The project fed outputs into the Information Clearinghouse
, the Graduate Diploma and Master of Tropical Environmental
Management and modules of the extension project.
The demonstration of a widespread decline of many savanna birds
that feed on the ground provides a context for design and
interpretation of other studies. Complementary work on the gouldian
finch reveals three important patterns that may be related to this
wider problem. The range of foraging options contracts in the wet
season, the sites that attract the birds occupy a small proportion
of the landscape, and important grass species are spatially clumped
within those sites.
The project is therefore switching from description of
savanna-wide patterns of granivore decline and studies of the
natural history of declining species to an examination of the
factors influencing distribution of critical resources. Work to
date has erected a platform from which more detailed studies of
grassland patterning and avifaunal responses can be launched, with
the aim of identifying important patch types and developing
management regimes that maintain their suitability for birds. This
will be the ongoing future emphasis.
Australasian grasslands and their threatened avifauna
Discusses the effect of contemporary fire regimes on 6 bird species [read more...
Fire management experiment for the declining Partridge Pigeon, Kakadu National Park
Identifies how fire influences the Partridge Pigeon habitat and management techniques to protect the species [read more...
Fire, grazing and partridge pigeons
Partridge pigeons are one of a large number of tropical seed-eating birds whose abundance and distribution have declined this century Fiona Fraser one of the TS-CRC’s PhD students has been studying the needs and habits of the… [read more...
Paradise falters for seed-eating birds
This article by Don Franklin of CDU outlines concerns about the decline in seed eating bird populations [read more...
Plight of pigeons
Pigeons and other seed-eating birds in the savannas have suffered a decline in the last century and become extinct in many parts of their previous range [read more...
TS-CRC Student project - The ecology of the partridge pigeon and habitat impacts due to fire and grazing
Australian National University Canberra: Completed Fiona Fraser Summary | Habitat preferences | Variation in home range size | Reliance on specific grasses | Nest failure | Research use | More information | … [read more...