Three bird talks on Thursday

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Subject: Three bird talks on Thursday
From: Naomi Langmore <>
Date: Tue, 9 Feb 2016 03:59:15 +0000
There will be three bird talks at the Fenner School of Environment and Society, ANU, on Thursday morning, all welcome. 
They will be held in the Seminar Room, Frank Fenner Building.


Thursday, 11th February

9 am

Ross Crates (Thesis Proposal Review)

Ecology and conservation of the Regent honeyeater


The regent honeyeater has suffered a disproportionatley large population decline as a result of the decimation of woodland habitat throughout its range. Current estimates suggest that there may only be 350-400 birds remaining in the wild. The species is very difficult to study as a result of its highly-mobile, semi-nomadic movement patterns. Fundamental gaps in knowledge of the ecology of the regent honeyeater limit our capacity to conserve the species in the wild. The talk will discuss: ecology, causes of the decline, potential allee effects, establishing a robust monitoring framework, genetics, as well as some interesting observations on regent honeyeater song variation.

10 am

Donna Belder (Thesis Proposal Review)

Survival and persistence of woodland birds in restoration plantings


Restoration plantings in highly fragmented agricultural landscapes aim to increase habitat quality and connectivity for native wildlife, including threatened and declining woodland birds. Previous studies have found that restoration plantings play a significant role in increasing bird species richness and abundance on farms, but we still know very little about the survival and persistence of bird populations in these landscapes.


This study is investigating bird breeding success and persistence in restoration plantings on farms in the south-west slopes region of NSW, with a focus on species of conservation concern. The primary aim is to assess whether these plantings are capable of supporting permanent bird populations, particularly for threatened and declining species.

10.45 am

Richard Beggs (Thesis Proposal Review)

Removing a reverse keystone species: Impacts of an experimental cull of Noisy Miners on small-bodied woodland birds in remnant woodland fragments within an agricultural matrix


Scene: a doctor’s surgery

Doctor: “I have some bad news and some very bad news.”

Patient: “What’s the bad news?”

Doctor: “You only have 24 hours to live.”

Patient: “And the very bad news?”

Doctor: “I should have told you yesterday.”


So here’s the bad news: small woodland passerines are in serious decline in eastern Australia. What woodland birds need above all else is woodland but Australia’s competitive agricultural spirit has achieved levels of clearing in two centuries that it took two millennia to achieve in Europe. 80% of southern temperate woodlands have gone whilst for critically endangered White Box-Yellow Box-Blakely's Red Gum Grassy Woodland only 3% remains. Remnants are highly fragmented and degraded and mostly on private farmland so beyond rescue by the traditional CAR reserve model.  Losses of biodiversity at least proportional to clearing are to be expectedand it is likely that a sizeable extinction debt remains to be paid.


And here’s the very bad news: Noisy Miners love a landscape made up of small fragments  of eucalypt woodland with no understorey – plenty of insects and nectar to eat and easy to colonise and defend. Hence, everything we have done in the agricultural landscape has encouraged their expansion in numbers. Any birds smaller than them (and even some larger) are aggressively excluded from patches they colonise with the result that vast areas of eastern Australian temperate woodland are unavailable to small birds.


And yes, a few brave souls have been talking about this for many yesterdays but it seems no one was  listening – “…..and all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death.”


To quote Lenin prior to his revolution, “What is to be done?” A revolution in revegetation would be ideal, but in this Age of Stupidity Australia continues to suffer an annual net loss of native vegetation. Having been recognised as a Key Threatening Process the way may be open for culling of Noisy Miners in certain circumstances. Whether a cull is an appropriate way of enhancing avian biodiversity is not clear as empirical evidence is lacking.


This study, then, will carry out a carefully-controlled environmental experiment in which miners will be terminally removed from eight small patches of woodland, with eight corresponding patches as controls. Before and after monitoring of bird presence, behaviour and artificial nest predation rates will show whether this really is an effective way to open up previously unavailable habitat to small woodland passerines or if some unexpected outcome occurs to sabotage such a desirable result. The difficult ethics of slaughtering a native species whose success is a symptom of anthropogenic habitat change will also be explored.


Naomi Langmore
Associate Professor / Australian Research Fellow
Evolution, Ecology and Genetics
Bldg 116 Daley Road
Research School of Biology
Australian National University
Canberra  ACT  2601

Ph. 02 61258982

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