RIEL Friday Seminar: Boom and Bust in the Tanami Desert - What are the effects of environmental unpredictability on desert birds?

RIEL Friday Seminar: Boom and Bust in the Tanami Desert - What are the effects of environmental unpredictability on desert birds?

Fri, 15/08/2014 - 10:00 to 11:00

About the Presenter

Richard Jordan

Richard’s UK honours degree in chemistry (1963) was followed by 18 years working in the field of education in Ghana, Kenya, Australia and Papua New Guinea. He changed tack in 1981, and set up Barren Grounds Bird Observatory and Field Studies Centre, two hours south of Sydney, as an employee of the Royal Australasian Ornithologists Union (now BirdLife Australia). This fulfilled a dream to develop his interest in birds into a career. Richard’s six years at Barren Grounds prepared him for a few years working as a fauna surveyor, mainly involving forest bird surveys. Next he bought a small bus and indulged his more sociable side by running a small bird tour business for 15 years, visiting all parts of Australia and most countries in southern Africa.

Richard ‘retired’ in 2005, and he soon became involved with the Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) as a volunteer, initially organising teams of other volunteers for Black-eared Miner surveys in Scotia Wildlife Sanctuary in western NSW. He had already taken several tour groups to AWC’s Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary, a 261,000ha property in the Tanami Desert 300km north-west of Alice Springs, and he loved the time he spent there. In 2007, Richard recruited and coordinated groups of volunteers to conduct annual bird surveys at Newhaven, initially using the network of approximately 70 fauna survey plots that had been established by AWC in twelve defined habitats throughout the sanctuary. Seven years later the resulting data encompass a full cycle of dry-wet-dry, and offer a tempting resource to investigate, with the encouragement of AWC, a number of questions concerning ‘boom and bust’ and desert avifauna.


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Confirmation of candidature:
Boom and Bust in the Tanami Desert - What are the effects of environmental unpredictability on desert birds?

There have been few studies of the detail of boom and bust population changes involving the birds of Australia’s deserts, and they have been of relatively short duration. This study may assist in the understanding of such questions as:

a) To what extent are prior bird assemblages affected by ‘booms’ following major rainfall events?

b) Do some habitats provide refugia during ‘bust’ periods following major rainfall events?

c) What mechanisms are involved in ‘boom and bust’ bird population changes, and do some bird species show little population response to ‘boom and bust’ conditions?

The permanent availability of artificial water points in the study area, and the occurrence of broad-scale wildfires subsequent to rapid vegetation growth after heavy rain, suggest two additional questions:

d) Which desert bird species have populations which are influenced by the availability of artificial water points, and are they positively or negatively affected?

e) What are the shorter- and longer-term effects of broad-scale fires on bird species populations, and can any effects be related to changes to vegetation structure caused by fire?

Conservation implications of this study

The results of this study will be applied to the management of desert habitats for wildlife conservation, and are especially relevant in a time of rapid climate change.

Questions b, d and e have relevance for land managers, especially in areas being managed for wildlife conservation. Appropriate recommendations will be incorporated into the outcomes.

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