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Dr Nick Williams, Ph: 0408 552 952 or 9250 6850, email
Dr John Morgan, Ph: 0427852727 or 9479 2226 email
Nerissa Hannink, Media Officer, University of Melbourne, Ph. 8344 8151 or 0430 588 055
Dr David Glanz, Manager, University Communications, RMIT University. Ph: 03 9925 2807
Dr Nick Williams from the University of Melbourne’s School of Land and Environment says that even small areas of grassland, such as those included in The Victorian Government’s plan to develop almost 7,000 hectares of native grasslands, are important for conservation.
A study by Dr Williams, Dr Michael McCarthy and Dr Colin Thompson, has shown that very small grassland patches can support viable populations of endangered species, such as the plains rice flower, for more than 100 years.
“Under the planned urban expansion, only grassland patches larger than 150 hectares or containing more than 200 individuals of certain threatened species will be saved from the bulldozers,” says Dr Williams.
“We’ve already destroyed more than half of the grasslands in the Melbourne region in the past 20 years.
“The 7,000 hectares to be lost under this plan are an important part of what little grassland remains. To say smaller grasslands don’t matter is simply wrong.”
As well as being a critically-endangered plant community, grasslands around Melbourne provide a home for many endangered plants and animals, such as the plains rice flower, striped legless lizard and growling grass frog.
The Victorian Government has planned for two new grassland national parks to be created on the city’s western fringe – a trade-off that concerns ecologists.
”Field surveys of the areas to be destroyed have been inadequate, and may have missed rare species,” adds Dr Williams.
Research by Dr Georgia Garrard, conducted at RMIT University has shown that between one and two hours of botanical survey per hectare is needed to find species such as the plains rice flower under ideal conditions. It takes much longer to find them when conditions are poor.
The scientists propose a network of conservation reserves within the urban growth boundary, to allow for housing development while protecting and restoring our endangered grasslands.
“With a variety of smaller reserves, plus the two new large grassland reserves to the west of Melbourne, we will have a much better chance of protecting the threatened species that remain in these habitats,” adds Dr John Morgan of LaTrobe University.