Rehabilitation of Utricularia sandsheet habitat after sand extraction in the Darwin rural area

Rehabilitation of Utricularia sandsheet habitat after sand extraction in the Darwin rural area

Sandsheet Heath vegetation in the Darwin rural area is a Northern Territory Site of Conservation Significance, an 'at-risk' ecosystem in the Darwin coastal bioregion and is one of the 12 national priority HEVAE (High Environmental Value Aquatic Ecosystems) sites. These Howard Springs sandsheets are a unique environment that supports a distinct vegetation type consisting of heathlands, open woodlands, sedgelands and grasslands. Sand plains are typically associated with monsoon rainforests, wetlands and riparian vegetation, which are all restricted vegetation types in the Northern Territory and hotspots for biodiversity. Genera of special conservation importance are Utricularia and Typhonium.

Utricularia is a carnivorous riparian plant genus which captures prey swimming near its roots using bladders. Utricularia species richness is particularly high in the Howard Sand Plains with as many as 12 species being found in a single plot. Some mapping work has been done but little is known of their biology, response to threats or how to restore their habitat after disturbance.

The Howard Springs sand sheet area is a source of sand for the construction industry and is also increasingly impinged by intensifying urban growth. It is the most economical source of sand to support major construction projects in Darwin. The Extractive Industries Association is keen to get better information on what is required to effectively rehabilitate the sand extraction areas. Weeds, fire, fertiliser, hydrological changes and recreational vehicles are additional threats associated with urban expansion into the area.  

This Commonwealth Biodiversity Fund project has funding to support revegetation treatment trials post-mining to inform best practice guidelines. The PhD project will focus on the revegetation trials and on the ecology of Utricularia.  Due to a lack of information on ecological tolerances of the species, baseline assessments of vegetation and environmental parameters will be undertaken. Field trials will be established with the support of Extractive Industry Association members and these will assess variation in soil and topography. Local provenance plant species will be selected for the revegetation trials with the assistance of Greening Australia. These will trial local wetland species in revegetation as there is currently little information on the performance of local wetland species for revegetation purposes. Shade house trials will also investigate factors such as nutrient levels and waterlogging duration on establishment and survival of Utricularia.

The PhD student will be part of a collaborative project with support from a range of organisations including Greening Australia, NT Government Flora and Fauna Division and the Extractive Industries Association and other partners. The broader project will manage fire, weeds and focus on management of unmined sand sheet sites of high biodiversity value. Field research shall be supported by shadehouses, wetland tanks and laboratory facilities at Charles Darwin University.

Preferred start date would be by June 2013 or earlier.

The period of study is standard for a PhD 3 years full time but part time could possibly be accommodated.

For further information please contact:                 

Dr Sean Bellairs, Senior Lecturer in Restoration Ecology,

sean.bellairs@cdu.edu.au       Phone 61 8 8946 6070

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