Confirmation of Candidature presentation: Fire effects on seed production of annual Sorghum grass species and the breeding success of Gouldian finches

Confirmation of Candidature presentation: Fire effects on seed production of annual Sorghum grass species and the breeding success of Gouldian finches

Wed, 20/11/2013 - 12:00

About the Presenter

Anna Weier

Anna Weier graduated from the University of Queensland with a Bachelor of Science, majoring in zoology and ecology, after which she completed honours. Her research interests include understanding the direct and indirect costs and implications of environmental change on populations of endangered Australian native species. She is eager to pursue conservation biology through integrative approaches, such as the combination of research disciplines in order to gain a more holistic understanding of the impact of environmental factors on native species. She is interested in applying her research in order to influence conservation strategies.

Anna's PhD project will focus on the effect that the timing (severity) and frequency of fire has on Sorghum stipoideum, a native annual grass. Many granivorous animals rely on the seed of this grass as a staple food source, including Gouldian finches. While examining the relationship between fire and Sorghum seed quality and quantity, the influence this has on the Gouldian finches breeding success will also be examined, with the aim of better managing fires in Gouldian finch breeding and feeding habitat. This research will take place at Gouldian finch habitat surrounding Wyndham, in the Kimberley region of Western Australia.


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The decline in granivorous birds is a recurring theme across the northern savannas of Australia that have experienced changes to the grass fire regime. Gouldian finches are one of many granivorous bird species that have declined.

The Gouldian finch, Erythrura gouldiae, is endemic to tropical savannas of northern Australia (Blakers et al. 1984). This species was abundant and widely distributed across north Australia, but the number of populations and population sizes have declined since European settlement and the species is now listed as endangered (EPBC Act 1999). Several causes of this decline have been proposed, of which habitat change, as a result of changed fire regimes, is a prominent one (O'Malley 2006).

The Gouldian finch has a restricted diet comprising grass seeds only (Dostine and Franklin 2002). It has been hypothesised that changes to fire regimes have reduced the availability of grass seed foods and have consequently reduced the habitat range of this species, inducing a population decline (Franklin et al. 2000).

Current research provides partial support for this hypothesis in that Gouldian finch populations seldom return to breed at sites that have been burned in the previous season (Pryke S. pers. comm.). This PhD research project will examine the relationship between the availability and quality of seeds from Sorghum grass species and the breeding success and survival of Gouldian finches.

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