New research has confirmed that an invasive species is rapidly adapting to different ecosystems along the coast, allowing it to spread fast and threatening the health of the marine environment.
A team of Deakin University researchers have been studying the Northern Pacific Seastar (Asterias amurensis) in Australia to better understand its potential to expand its geographical range.
The invasive seastar species originates from Japan and is a voracious predator which has a major impact on the marine food chain, devastating marine wildlife.
Deakin University PhD student Mark Richardson has been conducting research to test whether its larvae have the ability to cope with elevated water temperatures, which may determine the seastar’s potential range.
“The experiments have established that Northern Pacific Seastar larvae from Port Phillip Bay have several genetic differences that allow them to adapt to the local environment.
“The same experiments were performed on native Japanese Northern Pacific Seastars to evaluate their genetic profiles and see whether the individuals living in Australia have developed greater tolerance to higher water temperatures.
“The results indicate the Northern Pacific Seastars in Australia have a higher ability to thrive in elevated water temperatures compared to the native Japanese individuals”, Mr Richardson said.
The heightened ability for the seastar to adapt to different water temperatures could pose a threat to the native marine wildlife along the East Coast of Australia.
The Northern Pacific Seastar spreads through ocean currents and could infest waters eastwards from Port Phillip Bay along the coast.
Project leader Dr. Craig Sherman from Deakin University’s School of Life and Environmental Sciences, said the experiments conducted on seastar larvae would improve understanding about this invasive species in Australia.
“From this research we have developed a better understanding about how seastar populations are connected and how this species is adapting and spreading along the coast.
“We are interested in the ecological impacts the seastar is having on marine communities and the rapid evolution the seastar undertakes to survive in the environment,” said Dr Sherman.
The water temperature research will be able to provide information for future marine pest management strategies in Australia.
Marine pests threaten our local marine environments. To find out more about what marine pests to look out for click here.
Cats may be cute but they can also be deadly, with both feral cats and pets wreaking havoc on Indigenous fauna.
Under the Surf Coast Shire cat curfew, cats across the shire, excluding the rural zone, must be confined to the owners’ premises between 8pm and 6am daily to help reduce attacks on Indigenous animals.
Great Ocean Road Coast Committee conservation officer Georgie Beale said the local coast was home to a range of threatened or endangered species such as the Swift Parrot, Southern Brown Bandicoot, Swamp Antechinus and Rufous Bristlebird.
“Once a cat is out of its domestic environment it’s feral and they cause death and destruction, decimating indigenous wildlife including threatened and endangered species,” Ms Beale said.
Under the curfew cats found at large in any public area or outside their owner’s property between 8pm and 6am can be seized.
The Domestic Animal Act states cats at large can cost their owners a fee of 1 penalty unit ($100) for a first offence and 3 penalty units ($300) for further infringements.
All domestic cats should be micro chipped, registered and wear a registration tag to ensure lost and wandering cats are returned to their owners.
Otway Community Conservation Network (OCCN) facilitator Luke Hynes said cats have a huge impact on fauna.
“It’s essential that we reduce their impact on our coast,” he said.
The OCCN hires a humane cat cage free of charge, with a $50 refundable deposit, to capture wandering cats.
The cage is only hired out under special conditions to ensure cats caught are unharmed and users must adhere to strict guidelines for use.
It’s an offence for residents to set up inhumane steel jaw traps to capture wandering cats on their properties.
RSPCA Victoria Senior Inspector Daniel Bode said they see up to 100 cases of animal cruelty each year in Victoria arising from the use of traps including steel jaw traps.
“It is illegal under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act to set a steel jaw trap due to the potential they have to cause extreme injury, pain and suffering to animals.”
Ms. Beale said cat control was a complex task but that all cat owners could take simple steps to minimise the harm cats cause.
“Have your cats desexed and have them home at night. If they’re not wandering, they’re not killing our precious wildlife.”
When Thomas Austin introduced rabbits to Geelong in 1895, it is hard to imagine he had any idea of the problems this would cause. Nearly 118 years on, rabbits have become one of the coasts (and indeed Australia’s) biggest pests and show no sign of disappearing.
Why are rabbits such a big problem?
While they may look cute and fluffy, rabbits cause large amounts of damage to crops and immeasurable damage to the environment, explains Surfcoast and Inland Plains Network Pest, Plant and Animal Project Manager Brian Vagg.
“Rabbits are suspected of being the most significant known factor in species loss in Australia [although] the loss of plant species is unknown at this time.
“They are also responsible for serious erosion problems as they eat native plants, leaving the topsoil exposed and vulnerable to sheet, gully and wind erosion,” Mr Vagg said.
What can we do to control the current rabbit population?
Mr Vagg said education and people working together on a large scale is the most effect means to control rabbit populations.
“Land managers/holders are responsible for controlling pest animals on their land, but many simply do not know where to start,” he said.
Control which takes place on a gradual month by month, year to year level is proving to be the most effective with neighbours working together using a variety of methods.
Successful methods can include fumigation, baiting, trapping, filling in existing warrens and removing possible burrow sites such as wood piles and gorse.
“Most rabbit control methods are quite labor-intensive and need to be done on a regular basis en mass ideally.
“Poisoning is probably the most widely used of the conventional techniques, as it requires the least effort. Two commonly used poisons for rabbit control are sodium fluoracetate (1080) and pindone,” he said.
For more information on rabbit control in the Surf Coast area contact Brian Vagg on firstname.lastname@example.org
“Inspect your garden for weeds and consider if they could be removed and replaced by indigenous plants,” Ms Chabrier said.
FJJCR is always seeking new members and doesn’t have a minimum time commitment, welcoming even those who can only volunteer once a year. For more information on FJJCR contact Octavier Chabrier 0439510269.
This story featured in the Surf Coast Times Green the Coast Column.
Data collected by Parks Victoria using infrared camera trapping is helping keep track of threatened species and monitor the control of predators like cats and foxes. It sounds very technical but according to a recent Surf Coast Times article it’s easy, cheap and causes minimal disturbance to native wildlife.
How does infrared camera trapping work?
Digital cameras are set up at various montitoring sites and help researchers to determine the effectiveness of their current fox and cat control methods. The cameras not only collect images of predators but have taken some great pictures of rarely seen native wildlife.
The monitoring is helping to collect data on mammals and birds where is the past information was based on estimates and guess work.
Where are the cameras located?
Monitoring has taken place over 4 years in more than 40 sites in the Anglesea Heath and the Great Otway National Park.
The results so far…
The data collected has shown small mammal numbers are increasing and rare animals like the Bandicoot are being spotted more frequently.
The research has also found rainfall is a key factor in wildlife population changes. When there is better rainfall in a season more animals were caught on film. This is because better plant growth means more insects for the wildlife to feed on which then results in a better breeding season with more babies.
Have the cameras caught anything interesting?
Two male Scarlet Robins were caught having a territorial dispute.
Also spotted were the White Footed Dunnart, Southern Brown Bandicoots, a long-nosed Bandicoot, Button Quail, Owlet NightJars, Echidna, Possum and Currawong.
From cats and foxes to litter and road traffic our coast is a minefield of dangers for local wildlife.
“From cats and foxes to litter and road traffic our coast is a minefield of dangers for local wildlife.
“It doesn’t take much to help to minimise such threats so that our native animals have the best chance of survival, and keeping your cat indoors is just one of the ways you can help,” he said.
For more information about threatend species on the Surf Coast click here
The Surf Coast Shire has implemented a ‘cat curfew’ to reduce the impact feral cats are having on native animals.
Under the curfew cats must be confined to the owner’s premises between 8pm and 6am daily.
To read about the Surf Coast Shire’s cat curfew click here
The council can seize cats found roaming in any public area or outside their owner’s property in this period and cats seized and not reclaimed within eight days may be destroyed.
Surf Coast Shire Mayor Brian McKiterick says its important owners register their cats.
It is particularly important that all cats are registered and are confined during the curfew hours; for their welfare and for the sake of native wildlife.
“It is particularly important that all cats are registered and are confined during the curfew hours; for their welfare and for the sake of native wildlife.
“Cats that are allowed to roam at night can have huge impacts on our environment and are also in much greater danger of being lost or hit by a car. I urge people to be responsible and look after their pets,” he said.
Under the Domestic Animal Act the owner of a cat found at large can be fined $100 for the offence and up to $300 for further infringements.
Click here to check out the Australian Government’s fact sheet on feral cats.
Jan Juc Coast Action group is embarking on a fox control program in an effort to protect the local environment from the predatory pests.
Jan Juc Coast Action chairperson Luke Hynes said foxes were highly destructive to both flora and fauna.
“Foxes not only prey on native animals, but increase the spread of invasive weeds by dispersing weed seeds through their droppings and it is imperative that we reduce their impact,” he said.
Foxes not only prey on native animals, but increase the spread of invasive weeds by dispersing weed seeds through their droppings and it is imperative that we reduce their impact.
“They are becoming more prevalent in the Jan Juc area, often being sighted around supermarkets and suburban backyards,” he said.
Great Ocean Road Coast Committee (GORCC) conservation officer Georgie Beale said foxes could also be found in coastal vegetation, and that fox dens were a common sight in the dunes.
“The fox is a clever and oppotunistic predator , and carcasses of penguins and other small marsupials can be seen around their dens and scattered through the dunes.
“Ground nesting birds such as the hooded plover are particularly at risk. GORCC fences plover nesting areas in an attempt to not only protect this threatened species from dogs, but from foxes, ” she said.
Jan Juc Coast Action’s program involves trapping the foxes with soft jaw traps and does not utilise and bait in order to protect dogs.
GORCC is ordering and purchasing equipment for the group in support of the program.
“We are investigating different methods fox control, and are happy to be able to assist the group in this important program,” Beale said.
The Otway Coast Committee’s recent success using soft jaw traps for fox and feral cat trapping is serving as inspiration for the group.
OCC executive officer Gary McPike said about 30 foxes in total had been caught on beaches and foreshores in almost 18 months.
“This is a fantastic result for our native birds and animals. At the start of last year’s hooded plover breeding season three foxes were trapped inside one of our nesting areas in the one weekend.
” As a result, for only the second time in 10 years, at lease one plover chick grew to be a fledgling,” he said.
Traps are set away from beach access points and warning signs request dog owners keep their animals under control and stick to the paths.
If you would like to assist Jan Juc Coast Action in their work please call Luke Hynes on 0406 113 438.
This column was featured in the Surf Coast Time’s fortnightly Going Green Column.
Rabbits in the region are on the rise as the problematic pests gorge themselves on an abundance of lush feed following a wet summer.
Caleb Hurrell, Pest Management Officer from the Department of Primary Industries (DPI) says rabbits cause a range of impacts on the wider landscape.
“Impacts include overgrazing of native vegetation, displacement and direct competition with native fauna, soil erosion and reduced water quality.
“As little as 1 active warren entrance per hectare can prevent the regeneration of threatened native vegetation and in favourable conditions two rabbits can breed up to over 180 rabbits in 18 months,” he said.
The Torquay Landcare Group and the Surf Coast & Inland Plains Landcare Network are working to eradicate rabbits in Freshwater Creek, Moriac and Bellbrae.
Andy Smith, a local land owner and a member of the Torquay Landcare Group says controlling the pest is a huge challenge.
“It is a continuous effort to control the rabbit population and stop them exploding.
“We poison the rabbits over a week, and before and after poisoning we work to clean up areas that harbor rabbits such as warrens and wood piles,” said Mr. Smith.
The Great Ocean Road Coast Committee also runs an annual control program, focussing on rabbits residing in the dunes from Whites Beach to Point Impossible.
“The rabbits threaten important native plant species, reduce cover and destabilise the dunes,” said the Committee’s Acting Coastal Reserves Manager Mike Bodsworth.
Mr. Bodsworth said Pindone, the poison used in control programs, is of low toxicity to dogs.
“Routine notices are placed on sites where baiting has occurred and the poison used is not attractive to dogs,” said Mr Bodsworth.
How should people help?
Rabbits are classified as a declared established pest under the Catchment and Land Protection Act1994. All landowners have a legal obligation to control rabbits on their property in Victoria.
The DPI says effective rabbit control relies on a coordinated effort involving all landholders in a geographic region.
“Combining a range of differing rabbit control techniques including warren ripping, fumigation, harbour removal is the most effective way to control rabbits,” said Mr. Hurrell.
Mr. Smith says rabbit control is a difficult process that needs to be well planned.
“A poorly thought out poisoning or ripping program can be an expensive waste of time. The timing and selection of methods needs to be well thought out and coordinated with experts and neighbours,” he said.