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Protecting ancient life in South-Western Australia

Media release

A Curtin Institute of Biodiversity and Climate (CIBC) researcher will discuss the conservation of South-Western Australia’s ancient insects at the upcoming Flourish Symposium, in Margaret River, from 7-9 October.

The Department of Environment and Conservation Fire Ecologist and PhD student, Paul Van Heurck, will present his findings on forest beetle community responses to habitat patterns created over millions of years of fire regimes in the southern forests of WA.

“The South-West of Australia is a mosaic of diverse ecosystems and home to relict arthropod species, or ancient insects, with prehistoric origins,” Mr Van Heurck said.

“Due to climate change and declining rainfall in the South-West forests, there is an increasing need to create and protect biodiversity safe havens from the major threat of extensive wildfires and loss of future favourable habitats due to climatic stress.”

Mr Van Heurck said conserving these safe havens could possibly be achieved by creating patchy fire patterns to match the full range of past South-West habitats, which could protect the diverse, ancient plant and animal species from future threats.

“Around 30 million years ago in the Tertiary Period, a fire-prone, seasonally dry, Mediterranean climate became established in the South-West,” he said.

“The mosaic of South-West flora has long evolved with fire, creating complex fire patterns of burnt and un-burnt vegetation across the landscape.

“Extensive research on the impacts of fire on arthropod species has revealed that some species have evolved to only reproduce in smouldering habitats immediately following a fire, while other ancient relict species are still favoured by long un-burnt habitats.

“By creating patchy fire patterns to match the full range of these habitats, we can make a sustainable change now to avoid a potentially huge and devastating change some time in the future.”

Mr Van Heurck said the long history of fire mosaics in South-West plant communities favoured the evolution of the highly diverse and widespread arthropod fauna, which made up over 80 per cent of the species in most south-west ecosystems.

“Fossil traces of metre long mega-arthropods, the ancestors of our relict species, have been found as far back as the Silurian Period, which was 400 million years ago,” he said.

“Since the Permian age 245 million years ago, the long period of geological stability and gradual climate change has caused the erosion and redeposition of the highly infertile South-West soils into a complex topographic mosaic.

“A richly diverse plant flora has evolved on these soil mosaics. South-Western Australia is one of Earth’s 20 most rich centres of plant diversity.”

CIBC researchers will attend the upcoming Flourish Symposium in Margaret River, on 7 October 2011, as well as a number of associated Flourish activities over the weekend of 8 and 9 October, to outline research activity aimed at safeguarding and managing refugia for biodiversity in South-Western Australia.

Flourish will host a symposium, exhibitors, entertainers, displays, educational activities, workshops, topical speaker sessions, interactive demonstrations, children’s activities, an exclusive Under the Stars dinner and many more activities.

Mr Van Heurck will present his talk, Mosaic environments and Gondwanan relics, on Friday 7 October. For program details and further information, please visit: www.flourishmargaretriver.com

Contacts :

Andrea Barnard, Public Relations, Curtin University
Tel: 08 9266 4241, Mob: 0401 103 755, Email: andrea.barnard@curtin.edu.au

Web: www.curtin.edu.au