For information to assist in referral, environmental assessment and compliance issues, refer to the
Listing Advice and/or Conservation Advice and
The Listing and/or Conservation Advice define the national ecological community and may include Key Diagnostic Characteristics,
Condition Thresholds, Priority Research and Conservation Actions and additional considerations.
In addition, for recovery planning, mitigation and conservation information, refer to the Recovery Plan (where available) or the Conservation Advice.
|EPBC Act Listing Status||Listed as Endangered|
|Date Effective||16 Jul 2000|
|Listing and Conservation Advices||
For ecological communities listed from 2013 onwards, there is no separate listing advice.
Instead, the advice from the Threatened Species Scientific Committee regarding the listing status of the ecological community and recommendation regarding a recovery plan are contained within the Conservation Advice.
Commonwealth Listing Advice on Natural Temperate Grassland of the Southern Tablelands of NSW and the Australian Capital Territory (Endangered Species Scientific Subcommittee, 2000l) [Listing Advice].
|Recovery Plan Decision||
Recovery Plan required, this species had a recovery plan in force at the time the legislation provided for the Minister to decide whether or not to have a recovery plan (19/2/2007).
|Adopted/Made Recovery Plans||
National Recovery Plan for Natural Temperate Grassland of the Southern Tablelands (NSW and ACT): An Endangered Ecological Community (Environment ACT, 2006) [Recovery Plan]..
|Federal Register of Legislative Instruments||Declaration under s178, s181, and s183 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 - List of threatened species, List of threatened ecological communities and List of threatening processes (Commonwealth of Australia, 2000) [Legislative Instrument].|
|Indicative Distribution Map(s)||Map of Natural Temperate Grassland of the Southern Tablelands of NSW and the Australian Capital Territory threatened ecological community (Environment Australia, 2003p) [Indicative Map].|
This map has been compiled from datasets with a range of scales and quality. Species or ecological community distributions included in this map are only indicative and not meant for local assessment. Planning or investment decisions at a local scale should seek some form of ground-truthing to confirm the existence of the species or ecological community at locations of interest. Such assessments should refer to the text of the Listing Advice, which is the legal entity protected under the EPBC Act.
For the legal definition of the ecological community please refer to the listing advice and other documents under Legal Status and Documents.
The name of the ecological community is 'Natural Temperate Grassland of the Southern Tablelands of New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory'.
Natural lowland grassland communities in south-eastern Australia, which equate to natural temperate grassland, have been widely recognised in the scientific literature (e.g. Costin 1954; Kirkpatrick et al. 1995 and studies listed under Description). The specific term natural temperate grassland has been recognised under the Nature Conservation Act 1980 in the Australian Capital Territory.
For the legal definition of the ecological community please refer to the listing advice and other documents under Legal Status and Documents.
The current conservation status of 'Natural Temperate Grassland of the Southern Tablelands of New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory', under Australian and Territory Government legislation, is as follows:
National: Listed as an Endangered ecological community under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Commonwealth).
Australian Capital Territory: 'Natural Temperate Grassland' is listed as Endangered under the Nature Conservation Act 1980.
Twelve threatened plant species and seven threatened animal species listed under Commonwealth and/or state threatened species legislation are known to occur in natural temperate grassland, as shown in the tables below. Further information about some of these species may be found in the Commonwealth's Species Profile and Threats Database (Department of the Environment and Water Resources 2007).
Listed threatened plants
The data shown in the table below are based on Environment ACT (2005).
|Scientific name||Common name||Sub-regions1||Com'th Status2,3||State/Territory Status2|
|Calotis glandulosa||Mauve Burr-daisy||1,2||V||V|
|Dillwynia glaucula||Michelago Parrot-pea||1||E|
|Diuris pedunculata||Golden Moths||1||E||E|
|Dodonaea procumbens||Creeping Hop-bush, Trailing Hop-bush||1,2||V||V|
|Lepidium ginninderrense||Ginninderra Peppercress||3,5||V||E|
|Leucochrysum albicans var. tricolor||Hoary Sunray (white form)||1,2||E|
|Prasophyllum petilum||Tarengo Leek Orchid||3||E||E||E|
|Rulingia prostrata||Dwarf Kerrawang||E||E|
|Rutidosis leiolepis||Monaro Golden Daisy||1||V||V|
|Rutidosis leptorrhynchoides||Button Wrinklewort||1,2,3,5||E||E||E|
|Swainsona sericea||Silky Swainson-pea||1,3, 5||V|
|Thesium australe||Austral Toadflax, Toadflax||1,3||V||V|
- Sub-regions as defined under Description: 1 = Monaro sub-region; 2 = Eastern sub-region; 3 = North-western sub-region; 5 = ACT. Distribution within NSW sub-regions based on data in Rehwinkel (1997) and Rehwinkel (2003b); distribution in ACT based on ACT Government (2005). South-western sub-region (sub-region 4) not assessed.
- E = endangered; V = Vulnerable.
- Under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Commonwealth), as at July 2007 (Department of Environment and Water Resources 2007).
- Under Schedules 1, 2 and 3 of the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 (NSW), as at July 2007 (New South Wales Scientific Committee 2007).
- Under the Nature Conservation Act 1980 (ACT) (Department of Territory and Municipal Services 2007).
The vulnerable forb Ammobium craspedioides (Yass Daisy) has also been reported to be present in natural temperate grassland. However the species is considered to occur in secondary grasslands which have been derived from grassy woodland originally dominated by White Box, Yellow Box and Blakely's Red Gum (Rehwinkel 2003b; Sharp 2003; see also ACT Government 2004b; Threatened Species Scientific Committee 2006).
Listed threatened animals
The data shown in the table below are based on Environment ACT (2005).
|Scientific name||Common name||Sub-regions1||Com'th Status2,3||State/Territory Status2|
|Aprasia parapulchella||Pink-tailed Legless Lizard, Pink-tailed Worm-lizard||3,5||V||V|
|Delma impar||Striped Legless Lizard||1,2,3,5||V||V||V|
|Perunga ochracea||Perunga Grasshopper||3,5||V|
|Stagonopleura guttata6||Diamond Firetail||1,2||V|
|Suta flagellum||Little Whip Snake||1,2||V|
|Synemon plana||Golden Sun Moth||3,5||CE||E||E|
|Tympanocryptis pinguicolla||Eastern Lined Earless Dragon, Grassland Earless Dragon, South-eastern Lined Earless Dragon||1,3,5||E||E||E|
- Sub-regions as under Description: 1 = Monaro sub-region; 2 = Eastern sub-region; 3 = North-western sub-region; 5 = ACT. Distribution within NSW sub-regions based on data in Rehwinkel (1997) and Rehwinkel (2003b); distribution in ACT based on ACT Government (2005). South-western sub-region (sub-region 4) not assessed.
- CE = Critically Endangered; E = Endangered; V = Vulnerable.
- Under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Commonwealth), as at July 2007 (Department of Environment and Water Resources 2007).
- Under Schedules 1, 2 and 3 of the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 (NSW), as at July 2007 (New South Wales Scientific Committee 2007).
- Under the Nature Conservation Act 1980 (ACT) (Department of Territory and Municipal Services 2007).
There is a strong correlation between dominant plant species and the habitat of threatened faunal species (ACT Government 2005). The Striped Legless Lizard generally favours grassland dominated by either Themeda triandra (Kangaroo Grass) or Austrostipa bigeniculata (Tall Speargrass) and that has a relatively intact grass sward and a moderate extent of grass litter (Osborne 1994; Sharp 1995). The Grassland Earless Dragon and Golden Sun Moth are generally located in more open grasslands dominated by the shorter wallaby grasses (Austrodanthonia spp) (Osborne et al. 1995; Sharp 1995).
Other threatened species
Other plant and animal species considered to be threatened, declining or uncommon at the state and/or regional level, or with very low population densities, may also be present in natural temperate grassland or located in subregions where the ecological community is known to occur. Examples and/or lists of such species are provided by ACT Government (1998a, 2005), Barrer (1993), Benson (1994), Benson and Wyse Jackson (1994), Crawford and Rowell (1996), Eddy (1999a, 1999b, 1999c, 1999d, 1999e); Endangered Species Scientific Subcommittee (2000), Environment ACT (2005), Jones (1993), Rehwinkel (1997, 1998, 1999, 2007b), Rowell (1994), Sharp (1994) and Taws and Crawford (1999, 2000).
Plant species known to have very low or declining populations in natural temperate grassland of the Southern Tablelands, such as Microseris lanceolata (Yam Daisy, Murnong) and Leptorhynchos elongatus (Hairy Buttons), may be prone to becoming endangered in the face of continued threatening processes (Endangered Species Scientific Subcommittee 2000).
For the legal definition of the ecological community please refer to the listing advice and other documents under Legal Status and Documents.
Natural temperate grassland is grassy vegetation dominated by moderately tall (25–50 cm) to tall (50–100 cm), dense to open tussock grasses in the genera Austrodanthonia, Austrostipa, Bothriochloa, Poa and Themeda. Up to 70% of all plant species may be forbs (i.e. herbaceous, non-grassy/non-grass-like plants). The community may be treeless or contain up to 10% cover of trees, shrubs or sedges. It occurs within the geographical region of the Southern Tablelands of NSW and the ACT at altitudes between 560 metres in central and northern parts of its distribution and 1200 metres in the south, in valleys influenced by cold air drainage and in broad plains (Endangered Species Scientific Subcommittee 2000).
Topography, soils and geology
Natural Temperate Grassland occurs on ridges, crests, hillsides, undulating plains, valleys and lower slopes, creeks, drainage lines and river flats. The vegetation is associated with a range of geological substrates, including Cainozoic sediments, Silurian and Ordovician volcanics, mudstones, shales and limestones, Quaternary sediments, and Eocene basalt and granite (Benson & Wyse Jackson 1994; ACT Government 2005).
Natural Temperate Grassland is usually associated with heavy textured soils with low nutrient levels (Costin 1954; Groves & Lodder 1991). Soils on which natural temperate grassland occurs in the southern parts of the Southern Tablelands and the ACT have been described by Benson (1994), ACT Government (1998a, 2005), Kirkpatrick and colleagues (1995) and Sharp (1997). They range from skeletal to moderately deep, well drained sandy clay loams, clay loams and loamy clays on upper slopes, ridges and crests, to poorly drained, moderately deep loams and deeper organic soils in valley floors and along creeks, river flats and drainage lines. The grasslands are associated with chocolate/chernozem soils on undulating basalt plains on the Monaro, and with red and grey clays, loams and silty or sandy clay loams on drier valleys and hillsides.
Keith (2002) summarised the soils and topography of grasslands throughout their range as 'fertile periodically damp soils, usually derived from basalt or clay alluvium, on undulating terrain'.
Natural temperate grassland is restricted to temperate lowland areas where tree growth is climatically limited (Environment ACT 2005). It is generally located between altitudes 560 metres and 1200 metres on open plains and in valleys influenced by cold air (Costin 1954; Environment ACT 2005; Rehwinkel 1997; Sharp 1997). Minimum ground temperatures are often below 10°C (Sharp 1997). The rainfall is winter-dominated, and in the ACT and areas to the south, the mean annual rainfall ranges from 450 mm to 700 mm (Benson 1994; Benson & Wyse Jackson 1994).
Forbs present in natural temperate grassland include many species able to regenerate by vegetative means from buds buried in the soil, present at the ground level where they are protected by surrounding soil or litter, or on aerial shoots to 25 cm above the ground (Costin 1954).
The graminoid and forb species composition at any one site is thought to be influenced by the amount of litter present, the amount of bare ground and inter-relationships between particular exotic species and native species and the dominant grasses (e.g. see Sharp & Dunford 1994a). Sharp (1995) noted that plants with annual growth, rosettes or twining growth forms had a competitive advantage in the vegetation.
The floristic composition (herbs, shrubs and trees) of natural temperate grassland shows some variation across its geographic range.
Three major subregions are recognised, based on the main factors that affect grassland composition and structure, viz. the biogeographic range of the component species and differences in temperature and rainfall (Environment ACT 2005; Rehwinkel 2007b). A minor sub-region has also been defined west of the Kosciuszko Range (Rehwinkel 2007b). Environment ACT (2005) recognises the ACT as a separate, additional sub-region based on differences in levels of disturbance, land uses, management and threats, although its climate is similar to the north-western subregion of the Southern Tablelands.
The natural temperate grassland sub-regions are:
- Monaro sub-region (from the Victorian border to the south-eastern corner of the ACT and west to Kosciuszko National Park; it includes the towns of Michelago, Cooma, Jindabyne and Bombala).
- Eastern sub-region (areas east and north-east of the ACT, covering the upper Wollondilly River, upper Shoalhaven River and Lake George catchments; it includes the towns of Taralga, Goulburn, Bungendore and Braidwood).
- North-western sub-region (areas to the north of the ACT, covering part of the Murrumbidgee and Lachlan River catchments; it includes the towns of Boorowa, Crookwell, Yass, Gunning, and Queanbeyan).
- South-western sub-region (the Tumut to Khancoban area, west of the Kosciuszko Range).
- ACT (defined by the political boundary; included within the North-western sub-region by Rehwinkel 2007b).
The Monaro is the most distinct of the sub-regions. The tussock grass Poa sieberiana generally has the greatest ground cover, but is co-dominant with other grasses such as Austrodanthonia spp, Themeda triandra (Kangaroo Grass) and Austrostipa scabra var. falcata (Speargrass) and the forbs Chrysocephalum apiculatum (Common Everlasting; Yellow Buttons), Acaena ovina (Sheep's Burr) and Asperula conferta (Common Woodruff) (Rehwinkel 2007b). Shrubs most frequently present include Discaria pubescens (Australian Anchor Plant), Leucopogon fraseri, Mirbelia oxyloboides (Mountain Mirbelia), Pimelea glauca (Shrubby Rice-flower) and Pultenaea spp (Rehwinkel 2007b). Austrostipa scabra subsp. falcata shows a preference for lighter texture soils (Garden et al. 2001).
Grasslands in the Eastern and North-western sub-regions are generally dominated by grass species such as Austrodanthonia spp, Austrostipa bigeniculata (Tall Speargrass), Bothriochloa macra (Red Grass, Red-leg Grass), Themeda triandra (Kangaroo Grass) and Aristida ramosa (Purple Wiregrass) (Rehwinkel 2007b). The graminoids Lomandra bracteata or L. filiformis and the forb Chrysocephalum apiculatum (Common Everlasting; Yellow Buttons) are usually also co-dominant (Rehwinkel 2007b). Trees/tall shrubs such as Eucalyptus blakelyi (Blakely's Red Gum) and Acacia dealbata (Silver Wattle) may be present, while on drier sites (often with shallower soils) shrubs such as Acacia mearnsii (Black Wattle), Daviesia latifolia, Indigofera adesmiifolia (Tick Indigo), Jacksonia scoparia (Winged Broom-pea, Dogwood), Pultenaea spp and Rubus parvifolius (Native Raspberry) may occur (Rehwinkel 2007b).
The introduced grass Nassella neesiana (Chilean Needlegrass) and the forb Echium plantagineum (Paterson's Curse) are more characteristic of northern and eastern grasslands, while Nassella trichotoma (Serrated Tussock), Echium vulgare (Viper's Bugloss) and Eragrostis curvula (African Lovegrass) are more characteristic of grasslands in the south (Rehwinkel 2003b).
Grassland in the South-western sub-region is generally restricted to drainage lines, flats and lower footslopes dominated by Poa labillardieri (River Tussock), Themeda triandra (Kangaroo Grass) and Juncus spp, or to other moist sites dominated by Themeda triandra (Kangaroo Grass), Austrodanthonia spp and Poa siberiana (Rehwinkel 2007b). These same species are also common in similar habitats throughout the other three geographic sub-regions (Rehwinkel 2007b).
Natural Temperate Grassland associated with the Southern Tablelands of NSW and the ACT has been subject to numerous floristic studies with/without associated mapping. The most recent study covering the entire distribution of the ecological community incorporated floristic data from major earlier studies, including that of Benson (1994) and Thomas and colleagues (2000a, 2000b) (see Rehwinkel 2007b).
Rehwinkel (2007b) identified six plant associations that essentially comprise the listed ecological community 'Natural Temperate Grassland of the Southern Tablelands of New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory'. These are summarized in the table below.
|Association number and name||Dominant species||Distribution within SEH bioregion1|
|1. Sub-montane Moist Grassland (Snow Tussock - Kangaroo Grass - Tufted Daisy - Woodruff - Pale Everlasting sub-montane moist tussock grassland)||Poa sieberiana, Themeda triandra, Brachycome scapigera, Asperula spp and Helichrysum rutidolepis||Southern Shoalhaven valley, outer fringe of the Monaro and southern ACT (Monaro and Eastern sub-regions)|
|3. Wet Tussock Grassland (River Tussock - Rush - Kangaroo Grass - Wallaby Grass - Tall Sedge - Weeping Grass wet tussock grassland)||Poa labillardieri, Juncus spp, Themeda triandra, Austrodanthonia spp, Carex appressa, Microlaena stipoides||Colluvial footslopes, and alluvial drainage lines, depressions and flats (all four sub-regions)|
|5. North-western & Eastern Wallaby Grass - Red-grass Tussock Grassland (Wallaby Grass - Red-grass - Tall Speargrass - Common Everlasting - Kangaroo Grass - Mat-rush tussock grassland)||Austrodanthonia spp, Bothriochloa macra, Austrostipa bigeniculata, Chrysocephalum apiculatum, Themeda australis, Lomandra spp||Moist or dry sites in North-western (including the ACT) and Eastern sub-regions|
|6. Monaro Dry Tussock Grassland (Snow Grass - Wallaby Grass - Kangaroo Grass - Common Everlasting - Corkscrew Grass - Sheep's Burr - Common Woodruff dry tussock grassland)||Poa sieberiana, Austrodanthonia spp, Themeda triandra, Chrysocephalum apiculatum, Austrostipa scabra var. falcata, Acaena ovina, Asperula conferta||Dry sites in the Monaro sub-region|
|7. Tablelands Moist Tussock Grassland (Kangaroo Grass - Wallaby Grass - Snow Grass - Common Everlasting - Scaly Buttons moist tussock grassland)||Themeda triandra, Austrodanthonia spp, Poa sieberiana, Chrysocephalum apiculatum, Leptorhynchos squamatus||Moist sites, all four sub-regions (outer rim only of Monaro sub-region)|
|8. North-western & Eastern Kangaroo Grass - Wire-grass Dry Tussock Grassland (Kangaroo Grass - Purple Wire-grass - Mat-rush - Wallaby Grass - Common Everlasting dry tussock grassland)||Themeda triandra, Aristida ramosa, Lomandra spp, Austrodanthonia spp, Chrysocephalum apiculatum||Dry and sometimes steeply sloping sites in the North-western and Eastern sub-regions, sometimes in riparian or upperslope situations on shallow or skeletal soils|
1 South Eastern Highlands bioregion; sub-regions are those outlined in Description
Rehwinkel (2007b) described an additional association (Association 4, Lacustrine Ephemeral Grassland (Blown Grass - Curley Sedge - Round-leafed Wilsonia - Fan-flower Mudwort - Rush ephemeral tussock grassland)) that occurs in the Eastern sub-region, where it is confined to lacustrine deposits on the beds of Lake George and Lake Bathurst. Although Rehwinkel (2007b) considered this association to be part of Natural Temperate Grassland of the Southern Tablelands of New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory, it does not strictly fit the ecological community's definition, which requires the vegetation to be dominated by longer-lived tussock grass species (see Description).
Earlier studies of natural temperate grassland vegetation in the South Eastern Highlands bioregion of NSW and in the ACT are listed in the table below, together with their relationship to the associations described by Rehwinkel (2007b). The technical terms in the table relate to those used in the source reference. For a definition of the four sub-regions shown in the table, see Description above.
|Author/s & date||Relevant vegetation or map units||Reh-winkel||Subregion3|
|in study*1||assoc. no.2||1||2||3 and5|
|ACT Goverment||Wet Themeda Grassland||7||+||+||+|
|(2005)||Poa labillardieri Grassland||3||+|
|Dry Themeda Grassland||6||+||+||+|
|Barrer (1993)||Poa labillardieri association||3||+|
|Benson (1994)||Danthonia spp-Asperula conferta-Bothriochloa macra low grassland||5||+|
|Themeda australis-Juncus filiformis grassland||7||+||+|
|Themeda australis-Poa sieberiana-Chrysocephalum apiculatum-Acaena ovina tall grassland||6||+||+?||+|
|Poa sieberiana-Acaena ovina grassland||6||+|
|Stipa scabra subsp. falcata-Stipa bigeniculata grassland||5||+||+|
|Poa labillardieri tall tussock grassland||3||+||+4||+4|
|Costin (1954)||Stipa scabra - Stipa bigeniculata alliance||5,6||+|
|Poa caespitosa alliance||3||+|
|Fallding (2002)||Native Grassland||+||+|
|Gellie (2005)||151. Tableland Sedge/Grass Herbland||3?|
|152. Tableland Herb/Grassland||6?||+|
|153. Tablelands and Slopes Herb/ Grassland/Woodland||6?||+|
|157. ACT/Monaro Dry Grassland||6?||+|
|158. Monaro Dry Grassland||5?||+|
|Keith (2002)||46. Temperate montane grasslands||3,5-7||+||+||+|
|Keith and Bedward (1999)||Map Unit 23A, Monaro Grassland||3,5,6||+|
|Kirkpatrick et al. (1995)||Tussock Grass - Spear Grass - Red-leg Grass Monaro Basalt Grassland||6||+|
|Spear Grass - Niggerheads Monaro Grassland||5||+|
|Kangaroo Grass - Tussock Grass - Bulbine Lily Monaro Grassland||6||+|
|Kangaroo Grass - Blue Devil - Knob Sedge Canberra Grassland||7||+|
|Story (1969)||Tussock Poa community; Themeda community; Mixed mid-height grasses.||+||+||+|
|Thomas et al. (2000a)||Non-Forest Ecosystem 148: Tableland Tussock Grassland/Sedgeland/ Woodland (in part)||3||+||+||+|
|Non-Forest Ecosystem 151: Tableland Sedge/Grass Herbland||7 or 3||+||+|
|Non-Forest Ecosystem 152: Tableland Herb/Grassland||6||+||+||+|
|Non-Forest Ecosystem 153: Tablelands and Slopes Herb/Grassland/Woodland (in part)||6||(+)||+||+|
|Non-Forest Ecosystem 157: ACT/Monaro Dry Grassland||6||+||+|
|Non-Forest Ecosystem 158: Monaro Dry Grassland||5||+||+|
* Note that the scientific names of some plants used in the studies shown may have changed and that in later studies different scientific names may be used for the same plant species. For example, the grass names Danthonia (wallaby grasses) and Stipa (speargrasses) used in studies in the 1990s and earlier are now known as Austrodanthonia and Austrostipa (respectively). Similarly, the correct name for Themeda australis (Kangaroo Grass) is now considered to be Themeda triandra.
- Where possible, each vegetation, map or other unit in column 2 has been assigned to a Rehwinkel (2007b) vegetation association (see column 3) based on published or other references or through analysis of the unit's floristic structure and/or composition and distribution.
- Vegetation association number as shown in Rehwinkel (2007b) and summarized in the preceding table in this question.
- 1 = Monaro sub-region; 2 = Eastern sub-region; 3 = Northwestern sub-region, 5 = ACT (after Environment ACT 2005); sub-regions 3 and 5 have been amalgamated in the table because they have similar climatic characteristics (see also Rehwinkel 2007b). No analysis has been carried out for sub-region 4 (South-western).
- See Rehwinkel (1997).
Rehwinkel (1997) provides a comprehensive list of vegetation and/or soil mapping studies in the South Eastern Highlands bioregion, showing those that include reference to grasslands. He also summarises other ecological research (fauna, vegetation and/or flora) that has been carried out in the bioregion, including environmental impact assessment studies.
General details of travelling stock reserves, cemeteries and other areas of public land containing high quality remnants of Natural Temperate Grassland are provided by ACT Government (1998a, 2005), Eddy (1999a, 1999b, 1999c, 1999d, 1999e), Fallding (2002), Rehwinkel (1998) and Taws and Crawford (1999, 2000). Lists of plant species (all species or dominant and significant species) with/without some faunal data for various sites on public land are found in Eddy (1999a, 1999b, 1999c, 1999d, 1999e), Rowell (1994), Rehwinkel (1995, 1996a, 1996c, 1998, 1999) and Taws and Crawford (1999, 2000).
Unless shown otherwise, the following description of natural temperate grassland is based on Benson (1994), ACT Government (1998a, 2005) and Environment ACT (2005).
Dominant species, structure and species diversity
Natural temperate grassland is closed grassland, grassland and open grassland whose biomass is dominated by two or more of the perennial native tussock grasses Themeda triandra (Kangaroo Grass), Austrodanthonia spp (wallaby grasses), Austrostipa spp (speargrasses), Bothriochloa macra (Red Grass, Red-leg Grass) and/or Poa spp (snowgrasses) (Benson 1994; Benson & Wyse Jackson 1994; Sharp & Shorthouse 1996; Environment ACT 2005; Rehwinkel 2007b).
Mature tussock grasses range in height from moderately tall (25–50 cm) to tall (50–100 cm) (Endangered Species Scientific Subcommittee 2000). The spaces between the dominant grass tussocks are occupied by graminoids (grasses and grass-like plants) and a wide range of forbs (herbaceous, non-graminoid plants) which may comprise up to 70% of all plant species and form a distinct, lower layer of vegetation (Environment ACT 2005). Many forbs are from the daisy family (Asteraceae), or are lilies or native legumes (Endangered Species Scientific Subcommittee 2000; Sharp 1995; Sharp & Shorthouse 1996). Dwarf herbs, lichens and mosses may also be present on the soil surface (Environment ACT 2005).
The perennial native grasses together with the native graminoids and forbs usually comprise more than 50% of the total plant cover (Environment ACT 2005). The community usually also contains exotic weed species (see Threats), with annual grasses common (Costin 1954; Sharp 1997) and often forming high biomass in spring.
About 700 plant species have been identified in grasslands of south-eastern Australia (Environment ACT 2005). The number of native species present varies with the grassland vegetation association, with the highest number (230 species) recorded in Tablelands Moist Tussock Grassland (i.e. association number 7 of Rehwinkel 2007b; see also Description and between 142 and 190 species recorded in several other associations (Rehwinkel 2007b). The number of species at any one natural temperate grassland site is much lower, and varies between sites. Benson (1994) reported that the mean number of species for most southern communities ranged from 22 to 29 species per 100 square metres. In the ACT, Sharp and Dunford (1994a) reported the total number of plant species at any one site ranged from 44 to 78 species per ten square metres. Sites dominated by Themeda or Austrodanthonia have the highest native species richness (Benson 1994; Sharp 1995).
The proportion of exotic plant species in the grassland may range from 29% to 52% of the total species count (e.g. see Benson 1994; Costin 1954; Rehwinkel 1996b; Sharp & Dunford 1994a), and commonly comprises 35% or more of all species (Benson 1994). Sharp and Dunford (1994a) noted that in the ACT the cover for exotic plants could exceed 50% in spring but usually reduced to a maximum of c. 35% in summer after annual weeds died. In grassland considered to be only partially to moderately modified, exotic plants may still comprise more than 20% of the herbaceous cover (ACT Government 2005).
The floristic composition at any one site varies with intrinsic factors, such as landform and the associated topographic location of the grassland, slope, soil type, drainage, and past and current land use practices and their intensity (e.g. see Costin 1954; Benson 1994; Sharp 1997; Sharp & Shorthouse 1996; ACT Government 2005; Rehwinkel 2007b). Grass species dominance is thought to have changed significantly since European settlement because of past land uses (see Functionality; and Threats).
Other characteristic grass and grass-like species
In addition to Themeda triandra (Kangaroo Grass), the predominant perennial native grass species are Austrodanthonia auriculata (Lobed Wallaby Grass), A. caespitosa (Ringed Wallaby Grass), A. carphoides (Short Wallaby Grass) and A. laevis (Wallaby Grass), Austrostipa bigeniculata (Tall Speargrass) and A. scabra subsp. falcata (Speargrass), Poa labillardierei (Tussock, River Tussock) and P. sieberiana (Poa Tussock, Snowgrass) and Bothriochloa macra (Red Grass, Red-leg Grass).
Themeda triandra and Poa sieberiana are co-dominant in a variety of landscape positions and soil types. In wetter areas, such as drainage lines, flats and lower footslopes, Poa labillardierei (River Tussock), Themeda triandra, Austrodanthonia spp and Microlaena stipoides dominate the grassland with species of Juncus and Carex apressa (Rehwinkel 2007b). Poa sieberiana is the major dominant on the undulating basalt plains of the Monaro. The upper slopes, hill crests and ridges with well drained soils are generally dominated by Austrostipa scabra subsp. falcata and A. bigeniculata. Species of Austrodanthonia and Bothriochloa macra dominate gentle slopes, ridges and flats with well drained, shallow to skeletal soils. Other grasses such as Elymus scaber (Common Wheat Grass, Wheatgrass) may also be present frequently in the inter-tussock spaces.
Rock outcrops and wetlands that are a part of natural temperate grassland have their own distinctive species (Sharp 1995). In wetland areas they include sedges and rushes such as species of Carex and Juncus (Benson 1994).
Characteristic forb species
A wide range of native forb species are associated with natural temperate grassland. Species more frequently dominant or co-dominant with the grasses include Acaena ovina (Sheep's Burr), Asperula spp (woodruffs), Chrysocephalum apiculatum (Common Everlasting, Yellow Buttons), Convolvulus angustissima (Bindweed), species of Euchiton (formerly Gnaphalium spp), Leptorhynchos squamatus (Scaly Buttons), Lomandra spp, Plantago varia (Variable Plantain) and Vittadinia muelleri (Narrow-leaf New Holland Daisy) (Rehwinkel 2007b).
Characteristic weed species
Frequent weed species include the grasses Aira spp (Hairgrasses), Bromus hordeaceus (Brome, Soft Brome) and Vulpia myuros (Rat's Tail Fescue), and forbs such as Acetosella vulgaris (Sorrel), Cerastium glomeratum (Chickweed), Cirsium vulgare (Spear Thistle), Hypochaeris radicata (Catsear, Flatweed), Moenchia erecta (Erect Chickweed), Plantago lanceolata (Ribwort Plantain) and species of Trifolium (clovers). Sharp (1995) noted that grasslands dominated by Austrodanthonia tended to have more annual exotic species present than those dominated by Themeda, as the inter-tussock spaces were larger and more frequent and the biomass of the grass tussocks lower. Most exotic species are annuals (Sharp 1997).
Trees and shrubs are usually absent from natural temperate grassland (due to the influence of cold air drainage), but when present their canopy cover is 10% or less (Endangered Species Scientific Subcommittee 2000). Tree species more frequently reported to occur in the grassland include Eucalyptus blakelyi (Blakely's Red Gum), E. bridgesiana (Apple Box), E. dalrympleana (Mountain Gum), E. melliodora (Yellow Box), E. ovata (Swamp Gum), E. pauciflora (Snow Gum), E. stellulata (Black Sally) and E. rubida (Candlebark) (Benson 1994; Eddy 1999d, 1999e; Rehwinkel 1996a, 2007b; Thomas et al. 2000a).
Lower tree and shrub species recorded frequently in natural temperate grassland (group frequency >0.05) include Acacia dealbata (Silver Wattle), A. mearnsii (Black Wattle), Discaria pubescens (Australian Anchor Plant), Bossiaea spp, Daviesia spp, Mirbelia oxyloboides (Mountain Mirbelia), Pimelea glauca (Shrubby Rice-flower) and Pultenaea spp (Rehwinkel 2007b). Other species present frequently in some associations include Acacia melanoxylon (Blackwood), the epacrids Astroloma humifusum (Native Cranberry), Leucopogon fraseri, Lissanthe strigosa (Peach Heath) and Melichrus urceolatus (Urn Heath), and Hakea microcarpa (Small-fruit Hakea), Kunzea parvifolia (Violet Kunzea) and Rubus parvifolius (Native Raspberry) (Rehwinkel 2007b).
Shrubby weed species reported include Rosa rubiginosa (Sweet Briar), Crataegus sp. (Hawthorn) and Pyracantha sp. (Benson 1994; Rehwinkel 1996a; Sharp & Dunford 1994a). Other tree and/or shrub species found infrequently in grasslands are reported by Benson (1994), Eddy (1999d, 1999e), Rehwinkel (1995, 1996a), Sharp and Dunford (1994a) and Thomas and colleagues (2000a).
Faunal species typically associated with natural temperate grassland are outlined by the ACT Government (1998a, 2005) and Environment ACT (2005). They include a range of vertebrate species, including large herbivores such as kangaroos, and reptiles, amphibians and birds. Invertebrates are the dominant grassland faunal element (Sharp & Dunford 1994a; Yen 1995; ACT Government 2005).
On lower hill slopes natural temperate grassland forms a mosaic with grassy woodland vegetation; the tree canopy cover in these areas is greater than that in the grassland (10–30% projective foliage cover in grassy woodland; <10% projective foliage cover in grassland) (Environment ACT 2005).
The grassy woodlands include the 'White Box-Yellow Box-Blakely's Red Gum Grassy Woodland and Derived Native Grassland' listed as critically endangered (see Department of Environment and Water Resources 2007) under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Commonwealth) (Environment ACT 2005). This community is also listed as endangered as 'Yellow Box/Red Gum Grassy Woodland' under ACT law (Department of Territory and Municipal Service 2007) and as 'White Box Yellow Box Blakely's Red Gum Woodland' under NSW law (New South Wales Scientific Committee 2007).
In the eastern and southern parts of its distribution natural temperate grassland forms a vegetation mosaic with woodlands dominated by Eucalyptus pauciflora (Snow Gum), E. viminalis (Manna Gum) and other cold-climate woodland tree species (Fallding 2002).
Prior to European settlement, natural temperate grassland is believed to have been distributed across the Southern Tablelands of New South Wales and lowland areas of the Australian Capital Territory. It is mostly bounded by the Snowy Mountains and the Brindabella Range in the south-west and the Kybeyan Range, Budawang Range and coastal escarpments in the east. The Abercrombie River, Wyangala Dam, Booroowa and Burrinjuck Dam correspond approximately with its north and north-western boundary (Environment ACT 2005).
Its distribution generally corresponds with the Monaro, Murrumbateman, Bungonia and Crookwell subregions of the South Eastern Highlands bioregion (based on Environment Australia 2003). The Monaro Plains, Bungendore Plains, Gundary Plains, Yass Plains and Limestone Plains were all considered to have supported large areas of natural temperate grassland (ACT Government 1998a, 2005). Smaller areas were thought to be located from Crookwell to the upper Shoalhaven River, in the Booroowa and Yass regions, and from Murrumbateman to Tumut (Rehwinkel 1997; ACT Government 2005), and in the Tumut to Khankoban area (Rehwinkel 2007b). It was thought to be widespread as part of a mosaic of woodlands and grasslands (Benson 1994; Fallding 2002).
The best surviving examples of natural temperate grassland are located along roadsides or railway easements or in urban areas, church yards, cemeteries, special purpose sites (such as radio transmission towers in the ACT), travelling stock reserves, privately owned or leased rural land, urban parks and other open space and nature reserves (ACT Government 1998a, 2005; Benson 1994; Benson & Wyse Jackson 1994; Environment ACT 2005; Keith & Bedward 1999; Sharp 1995).
Remnants of natural temperate grassland are known to be located in various sub-regions of the Hawkesbury/Nepean, Lachlan, Murrumbidgee and Southern Rivers Catchment Management Regions of NSW (Department of Environment and Climate Change 2005).
Accurate assessment of the original extent of natural temperate grassland is not possible, but estimates range from c. 386,000 ha or less (Thomas et al. 2000b, based on the vegetation types of Thomas et al. 2000a as shown in the table under Description) to c. 480 000 ha or more (Rehwinkel 1997). The pre-European extent of the grassland in the Monaro (i.e. the southern part of the South Eastern Highlands bioregion) was estimated to be c. 250 000 ha (Benson 1994; Benson & Wyse Jackson 1994) although this appears to include two montane grassland types that are not part of natural temperate grassland. In the ACT, the grassland was originally thought to cover 20 000 ha of land (Benson & Wyse Jackson 1994). A map of the modelled distribution of natural temperate grassland prior to European settlement is shown in the National Recovery Plan (Environment ACT 2005).
Estimates of the proportion of the presumed pre-European extent of natural temperate grassland that remain today vary from c. 2% (Thomas et al. 2000b) to <10% (Keith 2002). Both these figures might be over-estimates, as the map units of Thomas and colleagues (2000a) include vegetation communities that are not part of the natural temperate grassland, while Keith (2002) appeared to include improved pastures.
Environment ACT (2005) estimated that probably <3% of the original grassland remains with high ecological integrity. In the ACT, 991 ha of listed Natural Temperate Grassland remain, or about 5% of pre-European extent (Environment ACT 2005). In NSW, at least 7000 ha in moderate to good condition is known to exist, and an additional similar amount is thought to exist on private land (Environment ACT 2005).
A map of sites in the South Eastern Highlands bioregion known to contain natural temperate grassland is shown in the National Recovery Plan (Environment ACT 2005). The sites extend from north of Taralga and Crookwell in the central part of the bioregion, south to near the Victorian border.
Natural temperate grassland cannot be considered naturally rare or restricted, as the estimated pre-1750 extent ranges from around 386 000 ha to around 480 000 ha.
Many remnants of natural temperate grassland are <10 ha in area, although some in travelling stock reserves cover 25–60 ha (Environment ACT 2005). In the ACT, only two of the 42 remnants of the ecological community listed under ACT law exceed 100 ha (ACT Government 2005).
No information is provided in the National Recovery Plan (Environment ACT 2005) or the ACT Action Plan (ACT Government 2005) on the minimum size for which a remnant patch is considered viable.
In the ACT, grassland remnants are often small in area and may be isolated from other remnants by urban and agricultural land and areas used for other purposes. The ACT Action Plan notes that the "combination of small size, isolation and the impacts of adjacent land uses may preclude or severely limit prospects for their long-term viability, irrespective of protection or other conservation measures" (ACT Government 2005).
The remnants of natural temperate grassland are generally widely scattered and small, and the ecological community is considered to be highly fragmented (ACT Government 2005; Environment ACT 2005).
A range of disturbances (see Threats) have affected the floristic composition of natural temperate grassland. About 5% of the original (pre-European) natural temperate grassland has a low to high cover of native grasses, low to high cover of exotic species but very low to no forb diversity (Environment ACT 2005).
It is thought that the perennial grass Themeda triandra (Kangaroo Grass) originally dominated much of the grassland prior to European settlement (e.g. see Moore 1959; Pryor undated), sometimes with the perennial grasses Austrostipa bigeniculata (Tall Speargrass) and A. scabra subsp. scabra (Speargrass) or Austrodanthonia spp (wallaby grasses) co-dominant (e.g. see Benson 1994; Frawley 1991). Poa sieberiana (Poa Tussock, Snowgrass) is also thought to have been an original dominant (Benson 1994).
Grasslands dominated by species of Austrodanthonia and Austrostipa and by Bothriochloa macra (Red Grass, Red-leg Grass) are thought to have become more common following European settlement as palatable species like Themeda were grazed out (e.g. see Benson 1994; Benson & Wyse Jackson 1994; Chan et al. 1973). In the 1950s Costin (1954) reported that Austrostipa scabra was the most widespread dominant grass on the Monaro and was often co-dominant with Themeda triandra and other species of Austrostipa.
While the above changes relate to the dominant grass species, no information is available on whether these changes have also caused functional changes in the community.
Lunt and colleagues (1998) note that pastoral activity from the early 1800s transformed grasslands in south-eastern Australia and also resulted in the decline or extinction of many animal species. No specific information is available on how the loss of faunal species may have caused functional changes in natural temperate grassland. However small mammals, such as bandicoots, bettongs, rat kangaroos and rats, which were known to have occupied grasslands, may have been important agents of soil disturbance (see Whalley 2003).
A range of disturbances have resulted in significant fragmentation of natural temperate grassland, changes to its floristic composition (through loss of species and/or changed abundance) and probably changed faunal habitats (see Functionality and Threats). Such changes are considered to have adversely affected the integrity of the community (e.g. see ACT Government 1998a; Benson 1994; Benson & Wyse Jackson 1994).
In the ACT remnants of natural temperate grassland with a Botanical Significance Rating of 1 or 2 are considered to have a floristic composition most similar to that of the pre-1750 grassland (ACT Government 2005). Remnants with these ratings (ACT Government 2005) in essence provide benchmarks of the highest integrity natural temperate grassland in the Territory today. This benchmark is probably not as applicable to other sub-regions of natural temperate grassland because of geographic variations in its species composition (see Description).
The listed Natural Temperate Grassland ecological community encompasses sites that clearly demonstrate the natural ecological functions of grasslands, or which can recover these functions (Environment ACT 2005). Remnants of natural temperate grassland are considered part of the listed community (Environment ACT 2005) if:
- they are dominated by native grasses and/or native forbs (more than 50% total vegetative cover, excluding exotic annuals), and
- a diversity of native forbs is present, or
- if disturbed, they have components of the indigenous native species (including both existing plants and reproductive propagules in the soil such as soil seed banks) sufficient to re-establish the characteristic native groundcover.
The listed Natural Temperate Grassland ecological community does not include grassland where 50% or more of the total plant cover is dominated by perennial exotic species and there is a low diversity of native forbs or the native forb component (including soil seed reserves) is not sufficient to re-establish the characteristic native groundcover (see Environment ACT 2005). Such areas are considered to have a low capacity for natural or assisted rehabilitation (Environment ACT 2005).
Environment ACT (2005) notes that while the excluded areas described above are not part of the listed ecological community, they may still have significant value as habitat for grassland fauna, and ecological buffers for or corridors linking more intact remnants, and may be the only remaining representatives of natural temperate grassland in a particular sub-region. Such areas may also have an important role in landscape functions such as erosion or groundwater management, salinity control and help provide resistance to weed invasion.
Secondary or derived grasslands are also excluded from the listed Natural Temperate Grassland ecological community (Environment ACT 2005). These grassland have been formed since European settlement by the loss of trees from grassy woodlands or forests (Benson 1996). The trees may have been intentionally removed or lost because of dieback or the prevention of natural regeneration (Benson 1996).
Secondary grasslands derived from grassy woodland through the loss of tree species such as Eucalyptus albens (White Box), E. blakelyi (Blakely's Red Gum) and E. melliodora (Yellow Box) may be part of the 'White Box-Yellow Box-Blakely's Red Gum Grassy Woodland and Derived Native Grassland' ecological community listed as critically endangered under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Commonwealth) (see Department of Environment and Water Resources 2007).
Prior to 2005 there had been no uniform survey of the presence and condition of natural temperate grassland across the Southern Tablelands biogeographic region (ACT Government 2005; Environment ACT 2005). Survey of the grassland on private land was considered inadequate in the three major subregions outside the ACT, and information on the location and boundaries of sites across land tenures was incomplete (Environment ACT 2005). Since then additional surveys have been carried out (e.g. see Baines 2006; Frawley 2007). These new data, together with earlier surveys, have provided a more comprehensive dataset across the distribution of the ecological community (see Rehwinkel 2007b).
Major studies that have been carried out in the various subregions are shown under Description.
The ACT Government has established 14 permanent sites in lowland native grasslands (that include the listed Natural Temperate Grassland) in the Territory that are monitored annually as part of a long-term monitoring program (ACT Government 2005). The sites include the main grassland floristic associations in the ACT and encompass the range of land uses and management practices applied to the remnants. The monitoring program commenced in 1993. Complementary monitoring of key threatened plant and animal species associated with natural temperate grassland is also carried out annually (ACT Government 2005).
The New South Wales Department of Environment and Climate Change office at Queanbeyan is monitoring the floristics of Natural Temperate Grassland in Turallo Nature Reserve and Kuma Nature Reserve. Other monitoring sites have been established through the Southern Rivers Catchment Management Authority (New South Wales Department of Environment and Climate Change, Queanbeyan Office, unpublished information, April 2008).
Sampling grassland plants/vegetation
The overall floristic composition of sites is important in classifying different grassland types and assessing their botanical value. Spring and summer are the best times for identifying plant species in natural temperate grassland, and where areas have been heavily grazed, grazing needs to be stopped and sufficient time allowed for the plants to regrow before attempting to identify them (Department of Environment and Climate Change 2005). Some herbaceous species that are known to occur in the grassland are very small and may easily be overlooked (ACT Government 2005).
Species lists at a given site may vary between the time of the year when the data is collected, between years and between workers. Rehwinkel (1996b) revisited sites examined by earlier workers and found species they didn't report and/or failed to find species reported in earlier surveys. This highlights the need to visit any single site more than once, especially during the main growing/flowering season, to get a reasonably complete floristic list (Rehwinkel 1996d).
Rehwinkel (2007c) provides guidelines for stratifying grassland areas as the basis for more detailed sampling, field methods including plot size and number, and the types of data to collect in order to assess the conservation value of site. A proforma for data collection is included in Rehwinkel (2007c).
Sampling grassland invertebrates
Sharp and Dunford (1994a) noted that any assessment of the invertebrate fauna associated with the natural temperate grassland requires a combination of sampling techniques, such as sweep nets and soil coring, to adequately represent the dominant insect orders present.
Mapping and floristic analyses
Most of the natural temperate grassland communities described by Benson (1994), ACT Government (2005) and Gellie (2005) are not easily mappable using standard mapping techniques and require site inspections and detailed floristic analyses for their identification.
Most of the vegetation communities that comprise natural temperate grassland have been classified on the basis of various types of computer analyses of floristic data. Benson (1994) considered that analyses using cover ratings of species provided a 'better' vegetation classification than the use of presence/absence data only, at least for grasslands dominated by perennial species. He noted that other workers however (e.g. Kirkpatrick 1993 and pers. comm. in Benson 1994), considered presence/absence data to be more useful because of how cover varies over time and seasonally. Benson (1994) conceded that analyses based on cover may over-emphasise the importance of frequency variation in a few dominant species at the expense of less common species. When analysing grassland communities in the ACT, Sharp (1997) used the frequency of species' occurrence to reduce the bias resulting from cover; this resulted in community classifications similar to those of Benson (1994). Whether based on cover, presence/absence or frequency data, the classifications will be affected by past forms of land use because of their effect on plant species composition (Benson & Wyse Jackson 1994).
Many of the different surveys and associated floristic studies of listed natural temperate grassland reported in the literature include the same sites and/or re-analysis of these sites (e.g. see Benson 1994; Rehwinkel 1997). However, because different computer methods are often used to analyse the data, they often result in different vegetation classifications. Rehwinkel (1997) also noted that vegetation classifications using computer-based numerical analysis (e.g. Benson 1994) result in plant communities that are different from those such as Costin (1954) which are done more 'intuitively'. The vegetation classifications reported by different researchers in the literature can generally be correlated with each other (see table under Description).
Natural temperate grassland has been used extensively for pastoral and agricultural activities since the 1830s with small-scale pasture improvement from the 1860s and clovers being introduced from the 1920s (e.g. see Benson 1994; Benson & Wyse Jackson 1994). These authors note that pasture improvement from introduced clovers and the application of superphosphate accelerated after the Second World War.
Most natural temperate grassland throughout its natural distribution has been affected by a wide range of disturbances. These include grazing, application of fertilisers, introduction of exotic weed species, changed burning patterns, soil disturbance, changed drainage patterns, and clearing for agriculture, plantation forestry, urban infrastructure and rural residential development (ACT Government 1998a, 2005; Benson & Wyse Jackson 1994; Endangered Species Scientific Subcommittee 2000; Environment ACT 2005). These disturbances are considered to have significantly reduced the extent and integrity of the community.
Current and future threats
Clearing and inadequate or incompatible land management practices in or adjacent to remnants are major threats to natural temperate grassland as they cause further loss and fragmentation of the remnants or modify and/or degrade them (ACT Government 1998a, 2005; Endangered Species Scientific Subcommittee 2000).
Specific threats to remnants of the ecological community, including threats identified as a particular problem in special situations (such as cemeteries, travelling stock reserves and roadsides) are summarised in the table below. Activities such as mowing, grazing, weed invasion and soil compaction, which cause gradual changes in the ecological community, have a lower level of impact than activities such as clearing which totally destroy remnant areas (Environment ACT 2005).
|Type of threat||Source of information||Special situations|
|Altered drainage1||Eddy (2002); Environment ACT (2005)|
|Bushrock collection||Fallding (2002)|
|Clearing2||ACT Government (1998a, 2005); Benson (1994); Benson & Wyse Jackson (1994); Environment ACT (2005); Fallding (2002); Frawley (1991); Rehwinkel (1996d)||cemeteries|
|Collection of native grass seed||Environment ACT (2005)|
|Feral animals3||Eddy (2000, 2002); Frawley (1991)||cemeteries|
|Grazing4 / inappropriate grazing regimes||ACT Government (1998a, 2005); Benson (1994); Benson & Wyse Jackson (1994); Eddy (2000, 2002); Environment ACT (2005); Fallding (2002); Frawley (1991); Jones (1993); Rowell (1994)||cemeteries; travelling stock reserves|
|Ground disturbance||Eddy (2000)||cemeteries|
|Herbicide use||Jones (1993); Eddy (2002)||cemeteries|
|Inappropriate fire regimes/wildfire||ACT Government (1998a, 2005); Benson and Wyse Jackson (1994); Eddy (2002); Frawley (1991)|
|Inappropriate mowing regimes||Benson & Wyse Jackson (1994); Eddy (2000, 2002); Frawley (1991); Rowell (1994)||cemeteries|
|Inappropriate seed collection for revegetation||Eddy (2002)|
|Pasture improvement5||Benson (1994); Rehwinkel (1996d); Rowell (1994)|
|Planting trees and/or shrubs (native and non-native)||ACT Government (1998a, 2005); Eddy (2002); Environment ACT (2005); Jones (1993)||cemeteries|
|Recreational activities||ACT Government (1998a)|
|Roadworks, including parking of heavy machinery||Rowell (1994)||roadsides|
|Rubbish dumping||Rowell (1994)||roadsides|
|Soil disturbance||Eddy (2002); Environment ACT (2005)|
|Soil dumping and/or stockpiling||Eddy (2000, 2002)||cemeteries, roadsides|
|Soil fertility changes6||ACT Government (1998a, 2005); Benson (1994); Eddy (2002); Environment ACT (2005)|
|Soil salinisation||ACT Government (2005); Environment ACT (2005)|
|Trampling||Benson & Wyse Jackson (1994); Eddy (2002)||cemeteries|
|Vehicular traffic||Eddy (2000); Environment ACT (2005)||cemeteries|
|Weed invasion||ACT Government (1998a, 2005); Benson (1994); Benson & Wyse Jackson (1994); Eddy (2000, 2002); Environment ACT (2005); Fallding (2002); Frawley (1991); Jones (1993); Rowell (1994)||cemeteries, travelling stock reserves|
- For example from earthworks, construction of roads, dams.
- Includes clearing for agriculture/cropping, horticulture and plantation forestry, roads and other infrastructure, urban, peri-urban and rural residential development, and for grave sites.
- Mostly rabbits.
- Includes sheep, cattle, horses, rabbits, grey kangaroos.
- Includes use of fertilisers and introduction of exotic plants such as clovers (Trifolium spp.) including by direct drilling and aerial sowing.
- From application of fertilisers (either directly or through runoff from adjacent areas) or depletion of organic matter through excessive defoliation or vegetation compaction.
Many threatening activities adversely affect natural temperate grassland communities by preventing flowering and seed production of the component plant species, changing the structure and composition of the vegetation, and modifying faunal habitats (Eddy 2002). Eddy also noted that some activities can introduce weed seeds, expose the soil and create favourable environments for weeds, or cause erosion or change soil moisture regimes. Populations of native species and the integrity of ecosystem processes in the grasslands can also be seriously affected (ACT Government 1998a, 2005). While most research into the effects of disturbance on natural temperate grassland relates to the flora, Yen (1995) noted that most of the threatening activities listed in the table above have the potential to adversely affect grassland invertebrate fauna.
Fragmentation into smaller and more disconnected areas also cause gradual changes in the community (Environment ACT 2005) through increasing edge effects such as disturbance from fire and human interference, increased vulnerability to invasion by introduced plants and animals, and restricting or preventing the movement of native plant and animal species between sites (ACT Government 1998a). Yen (1995) noted that the chances of local extinction of grassland invertebrates is greater in small remnants, and the chances of recolonisation are diminished with increasing distance between patches and as the amount of habitat containing potential colonisers decreases.
The effects of burning, grazing, mowing, weed invasion, fertiliser application, soil disturbance, use of herbicides and urban development have been reviewed for grassland communities generally by Sharp (1994) and for their effects on invertebrate grassland fauna by Driscoll (1994). Rehwinkel (1997) and Wellington and Larwill (1995) also provide tabular summaries of relevant research on grasslands and grassland species in the ACT and adjacent areas of NSW.
Plant species considered to be a weed problem in natural temperate grassland are shown in the table below.
|Species||Common Name||Reh-winkel assoc. no1||Source of information|
|Aira spp.||Hairgrasses||Sharp (1995)|
|Avena fatua||Wild Oats||Sharp (1995)|
|Bromus hordeaceus||Brome, Soft Brome||5,6,7||ACT Government (1998a, 2005); Benson (1994)|
|Hordeum spp.||Barley grasses||Environment ACT (2005)|
|Vulpia myuros||Rat's Tail Fescue||5,6,7||ACT Government (1998a, 2005); Benson (1994); Rowell (1994)|
|Vulpia spp.||Fescue grasses||Sharp (1995)|
|Annual and bi-ennial forbs|
|Echium vulgare||Viper's Bugloss||6||Rowell (1994)|
|Trifolium campestre||Hop Clover||5,6||ACT Government (1998a); Benson (1994)|
|Verbascum thapsus||Great Mullein, Aaron's Rod||6||Rowell (1994)|
|Anthoxanthum odoratum||Sweet Vernal Grass||Eddy (1999d; 2002)|
|Eragrostis curvula||African Lovegrass||6||Eddy (2002); Environment ACT (2005); Rehwinkel (1996b,c,d; 1998); Rowell (1994); Sharp and Rehwinkel (1998); ACT Government (2005)|
|Holcus lanatus||Yorkshire Fog||Eddy (1999d; 2000)|
|Nassella neesiana||Chilean Needlegrass||Eddy (2002); Environment ACT (2005); Rehwinkel (1996d); Rowell (1994); Sharp and Rehwinkel (1998); ACT Government (2005)|
|Nassella trichotoma||Serrated Tussock||6||Eddy (2002); Environment ACT (2005); Rehwinkel (1996b,c,d; 1998); Rowell (1994); Sharp (1995); Sharp and Rehwinkel (1998); ACT Government (2005)|
|Paspalum dilatatum||Paspalum||Sharp and Rehwinkel (1998)|
|Phalaris aquatica||Phalaris, Canary Grass||6||Environment ACT (2005); Rowell (1994); Sharp (1995)|
|Poa bulbosa||Bulbous Bluegrass||6||Rowell (1994)|
|Hypericum perforatum||St John's Wort||6||Eddy (2002); Rehwinkel (1996b,c,d; 1998); Rowell (1994); Sharp (1995); Sharp and Rehwinkel (1998); ACT Government (2005)|
|Hypochaeris radicata||Catsear, Flatweed||5,6,7||ACT Government (1998a); Benson (1994); Rowell (1994); Sharp (1995)|
|Crataegus monogyna||Hawthorn||Eddy (2002)|
|Lycium ferocissimum||African Boxthorn||5||Rowell (1994)|
|Rosa rubiginosa||Sweetbriar||6||Eddy (2002); Rowell (1994)|
- Vegetation association number from Rehwinkel (2007b) and as shown in the table under Description
Nassella neesiana (Chilean Needlegrass) and N. trichotoma (Serrated Tussock) are ranked numbers 12 and 15 (respectively) out of the top 20 weeds of national significance (Thorp & Lynch 2000). Eragrostis curvula (African Lovegrass) is also considered to be a major environmental weed in NSW (Benson 1999). These three perennial grass species and the perennial forb Hypericum perforatum (St John's Wort) are of particular concern on the Southern Tablelands (Environment ACT 2005).
Most of the presumed impacts of stock grazing on natural temperate grassland have been inferred by comparing the vegetation at sites known to be protected from grazing or only lightly grazed with other more intensively grazed sites (ACT Government 2005). Grazing can affect grassland species and communities through the removal of biomass, stockpiling and dumping materials, trampling, nutrification (from dung and urine), increased weediness (through creation of bare ground, dispersal of seeds and the introduction of weeds through fodder), soil disturbance, erosion, loss of soil moisture and altered drainage (Sharp 1994; Eddy 2002). Heavy grazing over a long period reduces the total biomass of native perennial grasses and results in annual herbs increasing (Frawley 1991). Grazing also changes the grassland structure by reducing the height of the vegetation (McIntyre 2005). Changes to the vegetation and soil can also result in the destruction and modification of faunal habitat (Sharp 1994). The adverse impacts of grazing can arise from both domestic stock and feral animals as well as from native herbivores such as kangaroos.
Perennial grass species such as Bothriochloa macra (Red Grass, Red-leg Grass), Austrodanthonia spp (wallaby grasses) and Austrostipa spp (speargrasses) become more prominent as grazing intensity increases (Story 1969; Frawley 1991; Benson 1994; Eddy et al. 1998; Dorrough et al. 2004). Themeda triandra (Kangaroo Grass) is reduced at high grazing intensities because of its greater palatability than the other grasses which helps makes the species more susceptible to grazing (Chan 1980 cited in Sharp and Dunford 1994a; Garden et al. 2001). Costin (1954) considered the relative susceptibility to grazing and trampling by stock of the dominant grass species to be (in order of decreasing susceptibility): Austrostipa bigeniculata, Themeda triandra, Austrostipa variabilis, Poa caespitosa, Austrostipa scabra and Austrodanthonia spp. The responses of the dominant grass species noted by Eddy et al. (1998) are shown in the following table.
|Dominant native grass||Response to grazing (Eddy et al. 1998)|
|Themeda triandra||Low survival under heavy, constant grazing.|
|Poa spp||Persist under constant grazing.|
|Austrostipa spp||Reasonably tolerant of grazing but less tolerant than Austrodanthonia.|
|Austrodanthonia spp||Thrive under regular grazing.|
|Bothriochloa macra||Persists under grazing.|
Experimental grazing of species of Austrodanthonia in grassland in the ACT, including A. carphoides (Short Wallaby Grass) and A. auriculata (Lobed Wallaby Grass), showed they were generally tolerant of grazing by sheep (Garden et al. 2000). Austrodanthonia species on the central, southern and Monaro Tablelands have been found to have higher basal cover under sheep grazing than cattle grazing, while for Themeda triandra [T. australis] the reverse was found (Garden et al. 2001).
After observing that some plant species (including some that are rare) only survived in fenced areas of natural temperate grassland protected from grazing, Benson (1994) concluded that year round, intense grazing (i.e. with high stock numbers) is likely to eliminate some native species. The presence of species known to occur in areas protected from grazing is generally taken to mean a given site has been lightly grazed and is in good condition (Rowell 1994). Examples of species reported to indicate light grazing are listed in the following table, together with more recent notes about the presumed effects of grazing on some species.
|Species indicating light grazing||Source of information||Notes on effects of grazing (Eddy et al. 1998)|
|Bulbine bulbosa (Bulbine Lily)||Benson (1994); Rehwinkel (1996b); Sharp (1995)*|
|Calotis scabiosifolia var. integrifolia (Rough Burr-daisy)||Rowell (1994)|
|Craspedia variabilis (Billy Buttons)||Rowell (1994)|
|Cullen tenax (Emu-foot)||Rowell (1994)||Persists in grazed sites on the Monaro; less common further north|
|Discaria pubescens (Australian Anchor Plant)||Benson & Wyse Jackson (1994)||Rare and apparently palatable to stock|
|Diuris behrii (Golden Cowslips)||Rowell (1994)|
|Diuris chryseopsis (Golden Moths)||Rowell (1994); Rehwinkel (1996b)|
|Eryngium rostratum (Blue Devil)||Benson & Wyse Jackson (1994); Rowell (1994); Sharp (1995)*||Early growth intolerant of heavy grazing|
|Leptorhynchos elongatus (Hairy Buttons)||Rowell (1994)|
|Microseris lanceolata (Murnong, Yam Daisy)||Benson (1994); Sharp (1995)*|
|Podolepis hieracioides (Tall Copper-wire Daisy)||Benson (1994)|
|Podolepis jaceoides (Showy Copper-wire Daisy)||Rehwinkel (1996b)|
|Pterostylis mutica (Midget Greenhood)||Rowell (1994)|
|Rutidosis leptorrhynchoides (Button Wrinklewort)||Sharp (1995)|
|Swainsona monticola (Notched Swainson-pea)||Rowell (1994)|
|Themeda triandra (Kangaroo Grass)||Rowell (1994); Benson (1994)||Low survival under constant heavy grazing|
|Thysanotus tuberosus (Common Fringe-lily)||Sharp (1995)*|
|Velleia paradoxa (Spur Velleia)||Rowell (1994)|
* species present in areas with low levels of disturbance
On the Monaro Tablelands, Dorrough and colleagues (2004) reported that the abundance of many native plant species in native grassland declined when grazing frequency increased from minimal (i.e. in roadside verges) to infrequent (i.e. in travelling stock reserves). However native species richness was similar under minimal and infrequent grazing frequencies, although it decreased in frequently grazed areas (Dorrough et al. 2004). Dorrough and colleagues (2004) noted that grazing sensitive native species may have been rare or locally extinct in their research plots due to the preceding century of livestock grazing in the region.
Detailed studies of natural temperate grasslands on the New England Tableland in NSW have shown that the life history characteristics and growth form of plants affect their tolerance of disturbance such as grazing (McIntyre et al. 1995; Tremont & McIntyre 1994). Species in heavily grazed areas were mostly annuals and/or had a rosette growth form with leaves oriented horizontally at ground level (i.e. were small in stature). Lightly grazed to ungrazed grassland contained forbs with a greater diversity of life form types, had a greater proportion of perennial species that could sprout vegetatively from buds buried in the soil or on aerial shoots, fewer annuals and more species with leaves placed well above the ground level. Studies in natural temperate grassland in Victoria suggested that grazing has the greatest effect on palatable forbs with an upright habit, as their flower stalks are readily destroyed and hence seed set is prevented (Lunt 1991, 1995). In natural temperate grassland on the Southern Tablelands of NSW, Benson (1994) implied that areas protected from heavy grazing are likely to contain a higher proportion of forbs such as Bulbine bulbosa, Microseris lanceolata and Podolepis hieracioides as they have an upright habit.
Although heavy grazing can lead to a loss of plant species in the listed grassland, total elimination of grazing is also thought to lead to a floristically simpler flora over time. For example Benson (1994) observed a decrease in the abundance of inter-tussock forb species and an increase in the dominance of Themeda triandra (Kangaroo Grass) after only two years of no grazing. Frawley (1991) also noted that when grazing in the listed ecological community is stopped, annual grass biomass can increase substantially. The removal of grazing from degraded Themeda triandra grassland may also result in an increase in introduced perennial grasses such as Nassella neesiana (Chilean Needlegrass), Holcus lanatus (Yorkshire Fog) and Phalaris spp (e.g. see Lunt (1995) based on work in natural temperate grassland in Victoria) if these species are already present in the vegetation.
Grazing by native animals such as Grey Kangaroos or by feral animals such as rabbits can also affect natural temperate grassland. While rabbits probably have adverse effects through changing the diversity of forb species (Rowell 1994), the effects of kangaroo grazing may be either positive (e.g. through the removal of biomass and keeping inter-tussock spaces open) or negative (e.g. by promoting unpalatable weed species) (Rowell 1994; see also Sharp 1994). Rowell (1994) noted that insect grazing may also adversely affect grasslands, particularly if they graze seedlings.
European explorers of the South Eastern Highlands bioregion reported that the grasslands were burnt by Aborigines (e.g. Havard 1936 cited by Benson 1994). It is thought that natural temperate grassland would have been adapted to some form of Aboriginal burning, most probably consisting of a mosaic of patchy, low intensity fires in spring or autumn (Benson 1994; Benson & Wyse Jackson 1994; Story 1969). This fire regime would have changed after the arrival of Europeans (Benson & Wyse Jackson 1994).
Fire can threaten natural temperate grassland if areas are burnt too frequently or too infrequently, too hot and/or at a sensitive stage of plant life cycles, of if entire remnants are burnt leaving no escape for native animals (ACT Government 2005). Small animal species that are relatively immobile and live in small grassland remnants are considered particularly at risk from frequent burning (ACT Government 2005).
Observations during floristic surveys of natural temperate grassland have suggested that winter burning of Poa grassland on basalt may result in the removal of species of Austrodanthonia and legumes from the inter-tussock spaces (Rowell 1994). Rowell (1994) also noted that species such as Keyacris scurra (Key's Matchstick Grasshopper) and some grazing-sensitive plants had survived under a regime of biennial or triennial burns in spring plus protection from grazing. One site that Benson (1994) recorded as being in good condition was also regularly burnt by landholders.
New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service (2005) considered that species decline in mid-altitude natural temperate grassland is only likely to occur in response to frequent fires if those fires cause loss of topsoil or facilitate invasion by perennial weeds. It also notes that fire may threaten endangered fauna associated with the grassland through heat stress or increased vulnerability to predators arising from loss of vegetative cover.
Apart from the work of Sharp (1999), there appears to be no other experimental studies on the effect of fire on natural temperate grassland of the Southern Tablelands. However Lunt and Morgan (2002) have reviewed research into the effects of fire on other natural temperate grasslands, much of it in Themeda triandra grasslands in Victoria. The latter grasslands have many similarities with natural temperate grassland of the Southern Tablelands in terms of dominant species, structure, and the characteristics of the flora, and hence the results are potentially highly relevant to the grassland in the ACT and NSW.
Lunt and Morgan (2002) summarise the effects of fire on southern Victorian Themeda dominated natural temperate grassland as follows. The majority of inter-tussock forbs were able to survive summer or autumn fires because the species were 'summer dormant' perennials, i.e. their aerial parts had died off but vegetative reproductive structures remained in or at the soil surface. Sixty four per cent of the perennial species were obligate resprouters after fire, i.e. they regenerated only by vegetative means, while a further 28% relied primarily on vegetative reproduction to recover. The soil 'bud and tuber bank' of these species was critical for their persistence in the community. Fire did not directly promote seedling recruitment of the perennial forbs, but was thought to provide the open conditions needed for successful seed production in the following spring-summer and promote seedling recruitment in following years. Most perennial forbs were able to flower abundantly in the first spring after burning if climatic conditions were favourable, i.e. the time required for resprouting plants to set seed after burning appeared to be <12 months for most species. Other short-term effects of fire were a decline in the biomass and cover of the dominant grasses and all other species, and an increase in the abundance of opportunistic post-fire colonisers (mostly exotic annual species) which had a large soil seed bank. There was little change in the overall floristic composition after burning. The increase in abundance of exotic annual weeds was noticeable even in previously long-ungrazed grassland because the soil seed store was still dominated by these species.
With increasing time after fire, the vigour and reproductive output of the perennial forbs declined as grass biomass levels increased. The longer the inter-fire period, the lower the potential for other species to reproduce and new individuals to be added to the community. In grasslands unburnt for 11 years, 75% of Themeda tussocks died, suggesting that the grass needed to have its biomass removed regularly for it to remain dominant. This contrasted with Poa which appeared able to maintain its dominance without the need for biomass removal (Lunt & Morgan 2002).
Annually burnt Themeda communities were among the most floristically rich natural temperate grassland remnants in southern Victoria. Few plant species appeared to have been depleted or eliminated by this burn frequency except for some members of the family Fabaceae that were possibly eliminated by late spring/early summer annual burns. Weed species were more dominant in long-unburnt areas (17 years) than areas burnt at 2–5 year intervals (Lunt & Morgan 2002).
Lunt and Morgan (2002) concluded that ecosystem processes that occur between fire events are likely to have more impact than the fire events themselves and their immediate after-effects, i.e. the effect of competition and biomass suppression of the dominant grasses is greater than the immediate effect of the fires. They also concluded that the floristic composition and structure of Themeda grassland were more likely to be affected by the fire frequency/time since last burn than by the season or intensity of the burn. Lunt and Morgan's review should be consulted for the original references on which they based their conclusions.
Mowing of grasslands can result in dense litter that suppresses seedling establishment, smothers plant growth, and enhances weed invasion through soil disturbance and transport of seeds on machinery, especially under high mowing frequencies (e.g. 4 times a year) (Rowell 1994). It can also prevent plants flowering and/or setting seed if undertaken at the wrong time or too frequently (ACT Government 2005; Environment ACT 2005). In grassland in the ACT, Groves and Lodder (1991) noted that if mowing is performed more than once or twice in any 12 month period it will reduce the vigour and persistence of native grasses.
Chan (1980 cited in Sharp 1994) showed that frequent mowing can lead to loss of Themeda triandra (Kangaroo Grass) and adversely affect Austrodanthonia. Bothriochloa macra (Red Grass, Red-leg Grass) appeared to be unaffected by mowing and could come to dominate frequently mown sites. Chan (1980) concluded that mowing regimes could affect the species composition of grasslands because of differences in the flowering responses of species at different times of the year.
Experimental slashing and burning of Themeda triandra grassland near Melbourne in autumn suggested that an open grass canopy was maintained more readily by annual burning than slashing or one-off burning (Henderson 1999).
Soil nutrient levels
In native grass pastures of the central, southern and Monaro Tablelands of NSW, species of Austrodanthonia and annual grasses were associated with soils with higher phosphorus levels (from applied fertilizer), while Themeda triandra [T. australis] was associated with soils with low phosphorus levels (Garden et al. 2001). The predominance of any particular species of Austrodanthonia is likely to vary with soil nitrogen and phosphorus levels related to past fertilizer application (Bolger et al. 2001).
In Themeda triandra grassland in southern Victoria, non-native species richness and cover were found to be strongly correlated with soil phosphorous levels (Morgan 1998). Perennial non-native grasses were most dependent on high soil nutrient levels. Morgan (1998) concluded that remnants <5 m wide appeared to be particularly vulnerable to weed invasion from fertilizer drift or movement of nutrient-rich soil from adjoining agricultural fields.
When grown together in pots, Poa labillardierei (Tussock, River Tussock) has been found to outcompete Themeda triandra in phosphorus and nitrogen uptake (Groves et al. 1973). Benson (1994) noted that if Poa sieberiana (Poa Tussock, Snowgrass) behaves in a similar way to P. labillardierei, it may have benefited from the application of superphosphate on the Monaro compared with Themeda.
Physical disturbance can result from a wide range of activities, including infrastructure development, cultivation and feral animal control (ACT Government 2005; Environment ACT 2005). The disturbance can remove or kill existing vegetation, alter drainage patterns and nutrient levels, increase run-off and erosion and cause loss of cryptogams (lichens, mosses etc) from the soil surface. The impacts can make disturbed areas vulnerable to weed invasion, and vehicle traffic associated with the disturbing activities can also assist the dispersal of weed seeds (ACT Government 2005).
Significant colonisation of natural temperate grassland by exotic species has been reported following soil disturbance (Lunt 1991). Wijesuriya and Hocking (1999) found that disturbed areas of soil in Themeda triandra grassland near Melbourne had higher levels of available nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) than undisturbed soil. They concluded this promoted weediness especially by annual herbs (mostly Asteraceae such as Hypochaeris glabra, Sonchus oleraceus and Picris echioides) and annual grasses (Aira caryophyllea, Briza spp, Lolium rigidum) in native grasslands. The higher nutrient levels resulted from faster mineralisation in disturbed areas due to readily available dead native plant material (which had a high nutrient conte
The condition of natural temperate grassland varies considerably with the extent and nature of past and current land usage and their associated forms of disturbances. Botanical significance ratings have been used in both the ACT and NSW to 'rank' the relative status/condition of natural temperate grassland remnants there.
The botanical significance rating method used in the ACT, described in ACT Government (2005) and Sharp (2006), is based on an assessment of cover, richness and rarity of plant species (Sharp 2006), and relates to the response of plant species to different levels of disturbance (ACT Government 2005). Each remnant of natural temperate grassland in the ACT has had its botanical significance assessed and a rating determined (see Functionality). The botanical significance rating of each remnant has been combined with other criteria to assign remnants to one of three conservation categories, viz. Core Conservation Site, Complementary Conservation Site, and Landscape and Urban Site (ACT Government 2005).
In NSW, Rehwinkel (2007c) has developed a quantitative method to assess the relative conservation value of Natural Temperate Grassland sites. The method relies on three groupings of species found in the ecological community, viz.:
- Common or increaser species (add little value to a site),
- Indicator species, level 1 (indicate a site has value), and
- Indicator species, level 2 (highly significant plants that are the rarest of the grassy ecosystems species).
Rehwinkel's assessment method (Rehwinkel 2007c) includes a decision tree for assessing whether grassy vegetation is part of the Natural Temperate Grassland and another decision tree for assessing the conservation value of individual sites. It relates to the three major sub-regions, and includes a comprehensive plant species list for each sub-region, with a score assigned to each species depending on which of the above three groupings it has been allocated to.
The National Recovery Plan for Natural Temperate Grassland of the Southern Tablelands (NSW and ACT): An endangered Ecological Community (Environment ACT 2005) was adopted by the Australian Government in January 2006. This recovery plan is consistent with, and builds upon, information in other state and national recovery/action plans for the ecological community and species associated with it, and takes a multi-species approach to the recovery of the ecological community and its component species.
In the ACT, Action Plan No. 28 A vision splendid of the grassy plains extended: ACT lowland native grassland conservation strategy (ACT Government 2005) provides the management framework for the natural temperate grassland in the Territory. This document, which also takes a multi-species approach and covers both the ecological community listed under ACT law and associated lowland native grasslands, builds upon and replaces the earlier action plan (ACT Government 1998a).
The main recovery actions included in the National Recovery Plan (Environment ACT 2005) relate to obtaining an adequate information base, conserving component species, applying 'best practice' management, involving landholders and the community in conservation activities, and applying effective planning for natural temperate grassland conservation in a regional context. The plan reviews activities taken to 2005 and outlines new actions required.
Because so many remnants are small in size, are located on land with a range of tenures and may require periodic disturbance such as grazing by stock, it is generally considered that a combination of on- and off-reserve conservation is required to protect natural temperate grassland (e.g. see Benson 1997, ACT Government 2005; Environment ACT 2005).
In the National Recovery Plan (Environment ACT 2005) the following criteria are recommended for determining remnants that should be afforded high priority for protection and conservation management:
- moderate to high botanical significance rating based on native plant species diversity
- high faunal habitat rating
- presence of one or more listed threatened species
- potential for natural rehabilitation and enhancement of habitat
- size and shape which allows the site to be buffered from surrounding land uses
- connectivity with other areas of native vegetation (including non-grassland communities), allowing for gene flow
- regional representation and replication of floristic associations, species and habitat, and
- relatively low weediness (either density or presence of particular invasive species).
Rehwinkel (1997) noted that linear-shaped remnants (along roads and railway lines) have a reduced long-term value for conservation compared with larger sites with lower boundary to area ratios because of the edge effects created by narrow, elongated sites (see also Williams et al. 1995). However Morgan (2003) showed that fragmentation indices such as edge to area ratios may be less important for conservation than active management. In natural temperate grassland in southern Victoria, factors such as frequent fire (that maintained site habitat heterogeneity) better explained local extinction of grassland plants than fragmentation indices. Morgan (2003) commented that such data suggest that, over short time-scales (11–20 years), management regimes have a crucial role to play in the persistence of local populations of grassland plants.
While the emphasis in the National Recovery Plan (Environment ACT 2005) is on protecting high quality natural temperate grassland remnants, low diversity remnants are also important for providing connectivity between high quality remnants and other vegetation types, especially where woodlands, wetlands, riparian strips or even forests remain adjacent to grasslands (Rehwinkel 2003b). Degraded native pastures or low quality grassland can also form important buffers around high quality remnants, by reducing the effects of external disturbance or adjacent incompatible land uses on them, as well as helping to provide connectivity between remnants by removing barriers to movement (Environment ACT 2005; Sharp and Rehwinkel 1998; Williams et al. 1991). Low quality areas may also have some habitat value for threatened species (Environment ACT 2005).
Important operational principles identified for planning conservation areas for natural temperate grassland (Williams et al. 1995) include:
- protect areas of highest conservation value
- consider size (viability), diversity, representativeness, distinctiveness (rarity) and naturalness
- replicate conservation areas to help reduce risk from catastrophic and/or unpredictable local extinction
- integrate smaller systems/areas within broader conservation systems (on- and off-reserve)
- consider constraints and opportunities provided by present and future land use patterns when carrying out regional conservation planning.
Each area needs to be assessed on its intrinsic values and what it contributes in terms of buffering, connectivity and regional representativeness (Rehwinkel 2003b).
A range of mechanisms is available to help protect natural temperate grassland remnants located outside of conservation reserves. These include memoranda of understanding (MOUs), regional plans, joint management agreements, voluntary conservation agreements, local environment plans and other planning mechanisms such as designation as public land categories where permitted activities are compatible with conservation of the grassland values (see ACT Government 2005; Ross 1999; Sullivan 1998). Rehwinkel (1996c) recommended the use of MOUs with local authorities such as Rural Land Protection Boards to protect remnants in travelling stock reserves. Details of off-reserve management mechanisms used in the ACT are provided in ACT Government (2005).
Incentives are an important mechanism to help maximise the protection of natural grassland areas on rural land (Crosthwaite 1997). They include incentives to change land ownership or property rights, to reinforce the role of local community groups and to improve whole farm management and business investment. Crosthwaite (1997) noted that the incentives can be directed either at management and protection of native grasslands or at the production of goods and services from them. Best practices for both incentives and stewardship of natural temperate grasslands are discussed by Ross (1999).
Crosthwaite (1997) noted the importance of involving local people in managing grasslands and for ensuring that key decisions on land purchase and management have broad community support. He also commented that native grasslands 'require management skills, and the direct and indirect costs in acquiring these should not be underestimated; consideration of these costs will help explain the reluctance of some farmers to entertain native pasture as an option'. Landholders themselves have stressed the importance of being realistic about the capacity of professional farmers to pursue 'conservation' as a goal, as short-term survival and profit will always be paramount (e.g. see Litchfield 1999). Consistent with this, Crosthwaite and Malcolm (2000) stressed the need for management approaches that focus on both the future of the conservation area to be managed and the future of the farm itself, and for policy approaches to take account of the operation, constraints and potential of farm businesses.
Protection in conservation reserves
Current and proposed protected areas containing remnants of natural temperate grassland are listed in the table below.
In the ACT, six nature reserves totalling 880 ha protect 430 ha of grassland listed under ACT law (Department of Territory and Municipal Services, unpublished data, April 2008). Two areas proposed as nature reserves (Jerrabomberra East Grassland Reserve and Harman Bonshaw) contain an additional 100 ha of listed grassland, but had not been gazetted by April 2008 (Department of Territory and Municipal Services, unpublished information, April 2008).
In NSW c. 350–360 ha of natural temperate grassland were located in nature reserves or crown reserves dedicated to conservation, with other sites totaling 100 ha being considered for conservation in 2005 (Environment ACT 2005).
|New South Wales|
|Bobundra Nature Reserve (Rehwinkel 2003b)|
|Coornartha Nature Reserve (Rehwinkel 2003b) (mostly low diversity grassland)|
|Day Hill Reserve (Environment ACT 2005)|
|Deua National Park (Rehwinkel 2003b; Environment ACT 2005)|
|Hattons Corner Nature Reserve (Rehwinkel 2003b; Environment ACT 2005) (mostly low diversity grassland)|
|Kuma Nature Reserve (Environment ACT 2005; New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service 2005)|
|Old Cooma Common Grassland Reserve (Robertson 2002; Environment ACT 2005)|
|Queanbeyan Nature Reserve, also called Letchworth (New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service 1999)|
|South East Forests National Park (Environment ACT 2005)|
|Turallo Nature Reserve (Environment ACT 2005)|
|Australian Capital Territory|
|(Environment ACT 2005; ACT Government 2005)|
|Crace Grasslands Nature Reserve|
|Dunlop Grasslands Nature Reserve|
|Gungaderra Nature Reserve|
|Mugga Mugga Special Purpose Reserve|
|Mulangarri Grasslands Nature Reserve|
|Lawson (announced but not yet gazetted)|
|Jerrabomberra West Grassland Reserve|
|Jerrabomberra East Grassland Reserve (announced by ACT Government (2004a); not yet gazetted but managed as a nature reserve since October 2006*)|
|Harman Bonshaw (proposed as nature reserve in 2004 but not yet established*)|
* Source: Research and Monitoring, Department of Territory and Municipal Services, April 2008
Other forms of protection
In the ACT 531 ha of natural temperate grassland spread over 11 sites are managed under MOU's (Memorandum of Understanding) between the ACT Government and Australian Government or other agencies (Environment ACT 2005). Grassland remnants on rural properties in the Territory may also be managed through a Land Management Agreement between the lessee and the ACT Government, or through activities associated with the Land Keepers program (see ACT Government 2005).
In NSW, at least 1600 ha of natural temperate grassland are subject to some form of management agreement. They include Joint Management Agreements over land belonging to NSW state or local government authorities, and Voluntary Conservation Agreements on private land. Approximately 80 ha of very high quality natural temperate grassland on private property has been purchased by the Nature Conservation Trust NSW and will be resold with a conservation covenant (New South Wales Department of Environment and Climate Change, Queanbeyan Office, unpublished information, April 2008). Natural temperate grassland in Scottsdale Reserve near Bredbo, NSW has been cultivated in the past and will be managed as part of a long-term program to restore its conservation values (Bush Heritage Australia undated).
Off-reserve management is also being achieved through conservation management networks (see Conservation Advice).
Occurrence on Commonwealth-owned land
In the ACT, remnants of natural temperate grassland are located on the following lands (ACT Government 2005):
- Canberra International Airport
- areas managed by the Department of Defence at Campbell Park Offices, HMAS Harman, the Belconnen Naval Station / Transmitting Station and the Majura Field Firing Range.
- land managed by the CSIRO at its head office in Limestone Avenue and at the Ginninderra Experimental Station, and
- areas managed by the National Capital Authority, including Yarramundi Reach, York Park and Territory Land within designated areas.
Natural temperate grassland remnants require active management and monitoring, in part because their small size leads to greater external impacts and likelihood of species becoming locally extinct (Williams et al. 1991, 1995). It is widely accepted that remnants need appropriate disturbance as part of a specific management regime, both on- and off-reserve, in order to maintain their conservation values (e.g. see ACT Government 2005; Eddy 2002; Environment ACT 2005; Lunt & Morgan 2002; McIntyre 1995).
The main type of disturbance needed for management is highlighted in a 'model' of Themeda triandra dominated natural temperate grassland developed by Lunt and Morgan (2002). These authors indicate the grasslands are characterised by the following features:
- a dominant, vigorous perennial grass that rapidly outcompetes associated species (mostly forbs) through the accumulation of biomass which reduces the amount of light available for inter-tussock species;
- inter-tussock spaces that provide the habitat for many smaller forb species that are predominantly perennials growing, flowering and setting seed in spring and early summer and dying back to buds or tubers at or below ground level over summer; this vegetative 'bud and tuber bank' is critical for the persistence of the species;
- many perennial native inter-tussock species that possess small, transient soil seed banks, and whose seedling recruitment appears to occur infrequently;
- with appropriate climatic conditions, plants that flower and set seed abundantly when biomass levels are low;
- if the biomass is not removed, many plants that die beneath the dense grass sward, and in the absence of a persistent soil seed bank the species may become irreversibly absent, especially in small isolated remnants.
Under this model the key disturbance required is managing the biomass of the dominant grass (e.g. by burning, slashing and/or grazing) to maintain its health and retain a high forb species richness (Lunt & Morgan 2002). These authors comment that perennial grasses such as Austrodanthonia and Austrostipa typically have less biomass and shorter life spans than Themeda triandra or Poa species, and thus removal of their biomass through management actions is not necessarily required in order to retain the floristic diversity of the communities they dominate.
Although the above model was based predominantly on detailed studies of natural temperate grassland in southern Victoria, it appears to be generally applicable to natural temperate grassland on the Southern Tablelands. For example grasslands on the Monaro also contain a high proportion of forbs that are perennials with protected reproductive buds (Costin 1954), and biomass control is a critical aspect of the proposed management of listed natural temperate grassland remnants (e.g. ACT Government 2005; Environment ACT 2005; see also Benson 1997; Rowell 1994). Sharp (2003) considered that biomass management should be based on removing biomass 'as often as is necessary' (i.e. without causing adverse effects) to maintain inter-tussock species, noting that the frequency of biomass removal will vary with different dominant grasses and seasonal variation. Mechanisms other than fire are often used for defoliation in areas where unplanned fires may be a problem (Environment ACT 2005).
Management goals and objectives
Management goals for natural temperate grassland include arresting the decline in the extent and quality of the remnants (Environment ACT 2005) and managing and rehabilitating remnants appropriately in order to conserve in perpetuity key remnant areas and all grassland plant and animal species (ACT Government 2005).
Achieving these objectives requires maintaining ecosystem processes (Williams et al. 1991, 1995), maintaining dominant species and maximising or enhancing species diversity and structural complexity (ACT Government 1998a; Rowell 1994; Sharp 1995; Sharp & Rehwinkel 1998). It also requires maintaining soil and existing drainage conditions, controlling plant introductions and weediness, removing biomass through appropriate defoliation regimes to enable native plants to flower, set seed and allow their seedlings to establish, and if possible maintaining connectivity between natural temperate grassland remnants and between them and other natural grassland, woodland or naturally vegetated areas (ACT Government 1998a; Environment ACT 2005). Where native tree species are a natural component of the grassland, these should be managed as an integral part of the community (Eddy 2002; see also Sharp & Rehwinkel 1998).
Robertson and colleagues (2000) and Sharp (2000) have stressed the importance of clearly defining specific management objectives for grassland remnants, for example whether to maintain the structure and integrity of the community, manage biodiversity and/or particular flora and/or fauna species, remove or control threats, or maintain a certain amount of biomass. The objectives should be developed from scientific principles to ensure a long-term strategic approach to management (ACT Government 2005).
Sharp (1995) and Sharp and Rehwinkel (1998) recommended a site-specific management approach. Where sites contain threatened species, management must take account of their requirements for survival (Sharp 1995; Rowell 1994).
Ideally, actions to achieve management objectives should be tailored to the specific habit, habitat and life cycle requirements of individual species in the grassland (Sharp & Dunford 1994b; Williams et al. 1995). Such information is generally available for threatened plants and animals in various action and recovery plans (see ACT Government 1998a, 1998b, 1998c, 1998d, 1998e, 1998f, 1999, 2003; NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service 2000; Osborne & Jones 1995; Robertson & Cooper 2000; Smith & Robertson 1999; Zich et al. 1995). However it is rarely available for all the component species in a grassland remnant. In these situations categorising species into broad ecological types (for example dominant tussock grasses, inter-tussock perennial forbs, and inter-tussock annuals) may assist in the development of particular management regimes (Lunt 1995).
Where growth-form data allows the effect of different forms of management to be predicted, Lunt (1995), McIntyre and colleagues (1995) and Tremont and McIntyre (1994) noted that such knowledge may also be useful in assisting to develop specific management regimes. For example Lunt (1995) noted that mowing or grazing generally select for small rather than tall species, while low rosette plants or creeping species will survive best where there is little competition for light from dominant grasses. Small annuals will generally increase in abundance in open grazed areas, while tall upright species have a greater ability to survive thick grass. Barrer (1993) noted that mowing can discriminate against taller and slower-maturing species, and considered that herbs such as the endangered Rutidosis leptorrhynchoides (Button Wrinklewort) were unlikely to survive annual mowing (Lunt 1995; Tremont & McIntyre 1994).
In the absence of detailed knowledge about the requirements of individual species and the effects of management activities on them, a widely espoused 'default' management principle has been to maintain whatever management at a site has ensured the presence of the species and/or enabled the site to remain a high quality remnant (see ACT Government 1998a; Osborne 1994; Rehwinkel 1996d; Rowell 1994; Sharp 1994; Sharp & Shorthouse 1996). In such situations however there may be value in changing the purpose of the activities. For example Sharp and Shorthouse (1996) and Sharp and Rehwinkel (1998) consider that if grazing on rural land is continued because a remnant has been grazed in the past, the purpose of the grazing should be changed from just animal production to also achieving conservation objectives. Previous management practices should only be changed if there are clear reasons for doing so (Sharp 1995), for example to address threats from weed invasion (Rehwinkel 1996d) or if the altered practices are likely to better meet specific conservation management objectives (ACT Government 2005).
Sites adjacent to high quality grassland remnants need to be managed sympathetically to avoid adverse effects such as run-on of water containing fertilisers, herbicides or pollutants, weed invasion, unplanned fires and trampling (Sharp & Dunford 1994a; Sharp & Rehwinkel 1998; Williams et al. 1995). Williams and colleagues (1995) noted that any set of land uses has a characteristic suite of possible impacts on adjacent areas. They provided a table showing the level of compatibility of a range of adjacent uses with conserving the threatened reptile Delma impar (Striped Legless Lizard). This approach can be applied more widely to other threatened species.
Inappropriate management and land use can cause incremental change in the diversity and abundance of species in natural temperate grassland but these effects are often subtle and not easily identifiable (Sharp 1999). Sharp noted that this type of vegetation responds strongly in the short-term to events such as changed management or climatic conditions, and that it is virtually impossible to distinguish between short-term fluctuations and long-term detrimental change without some form of measurement of that change. This highlights the importance of monitoring grassland remnants as an integral part of their management (e.g. see Sharp & Rehwinkel 1998). Permanent monitoring sites from which quantitative data are collected on a regular basis are considered necessary (ACT Government 1998a; Sharp 1999).
The grassy ecosystem management kit prepared by Sharp and colleagues (2005) provides a guide to developing management plans based on current best management practices and adaptive management for conserving listed natural temperate grassland remnants.
A range of published management guidelines for natural temperate grasslands is also available (e.g. see Barlow 1998; Department of Conservation and Environment 1992; Diez & Foreman 1996; Dorrough 1996; Eddy 2002; Langford et al. 2004). The guidelines in Dorrough (1996) and Eddy (2002) are based on experience predominantly in natural temperate grassland of the Southern Tablelands, with those of Eddy reflecting the more recent thinking about best practices.
ACT Government (2005) highlights the need for an adaptive management regime to allow the effectiveness of management practices to be tested (in terms of whether or not they are achieving desired outcomes) in the field and management activities adjusted as needed in response to new information. This requires monitoring programs (see above) that can help distinguish between changes arising from natural seasonal fluctuations and those resulting from management actions.
Activities to avoid
Management activities that should generally be avoided in natural temperate grassland include ploughing, earthworks that alter drainage patterns, clearing, rock removal, cultivation, pasture improvement, adding fertiliser, excessive livestock grazing, topsoil removal, and stockpiling, dumping or spreading of soil (Eddy 2002; Sharp & Dunford 1994b; Sharp & Rehwinkel 1998). Prolonged intensive uses that may reduce plant cover and cause soil compaction, disturbance or erosion should also be avoided (ACT Government 1998a). Exotic or non-local tree or shrub species should not be planted, and self-sown exotic or non-local trees and shrubs removed (Eddy 2002). Native herbaceous species that are not found naturally in natural temperate grassland should also not be planted (Department of Environment and Climate Change 2005). Introduced pest animals such as rabbits, cats, pigs and foxes should be controlled (Eddy 2002). It is important to avoid grassland areas becoming shaded whether through tree planting or the construction of buildings (Dorrough 1996; Environment ACT 2005).
The grassy ecosystem management kit of Sharp and colleagues (2005) highlights the importance of managing grass biomass in a way that is most suitable to individual remnants, rather than adopting prescriptive approaches. This change in emphasis from the 1990s reflects the improved knowledge base about how the grasslands function, and highlights the importance of adapting management in the future as that body of knowledge continues to grow (Sharp 2003).
When using destructive management practices to remove biomass, a mosaic management approach is generally advocated rather than applying the practices uniformly across entire remnant areas (Dorrough 1996; Sharp & Dunford 1994a, 1994b; Sharp & Rehwinkel 1998). Williams and colleagues (1991, 1995) also stressed the importance of maintaining a diversity of patch types (e.g. burnt and unburnt) between remnants as well as within high conservation areas. Such mosaics or patchiness is needed to ensure that features reported to be important for grassland conservation, such as structural diversity and optimum habitat for animal and plant species (Rowell 1994; Sharp 2000; Williams et al. 1991), are always present.
In natural temperate grassland in southern Victoria, Lunt (1995) noted that the regular use of any particular management regime (e.g. frequent mowing or grazing) would strongly select for some species and lead to a reduction in species diversity and structural complexity. He advocated the use of a combination of management techniques, such as integrated burning or mowing with seasonal grazing or selective applications of herbicides.
Mowing and slashing
Mowing can be effective in maintaining an open structure in grasslands that is favourable for the germination of herbaceous forbs associated with them (ACT Government 2005). It may also be used to meet other management objectives related to foot access, fire hazard reduction and landscape aesthetics (ACT Government 2005).
Any mowing/slashing regime to remove grass biomass should allow for periods of good plant growth between mowings and permit the grassland species to flower and set seed at least every few years (Eddy 2002). Grassland should not be mowed when significant plant species (e.g. those declared as threatened species (see Legal Status) are flowering or setting seed (Sharp & Dunford 1994a, 1994b). Mowing should also be avoided when fauna species are active and depend on the vegetation for shelter and food (Sharp & Rehwinkel 1998).
The creation of 'windrows' or clumps of grass clippings should be avoided by using flail type mowers, catching the clippings or raking and removing them (Dorrough 1996; Eddy 2002; Rehwinkel 1996b; Sharp & Dunford 1994a, 1994b; Sharp & Rehwinkel 1998). Machinery should be cleaned prior to use to avoid the spread of weed seeds to or between different grassland sites (Dorrough 1996; Eddy 2002; Rehwinkel 1996b; Sharp & Dunford 1994a, 1994b; Sharp & Rehwinkel 1998). Areas should not be mowed when the ground is wet to avoid soil compaction and the creation of ruts (Sharp & Dunford 1994a, 1994b; Sharp & Rehwinkel 1998).
In the 1990s, various prescriptions for mowing were advocated. They included a minimum mowing height of c. 10 cm from the ground level (e.g. see Dorrough 1996; Sharp & Dunford 1994b; Sharp & Rehwinkel 1998), with further guidelines on the mowing height considered to be most appropriate for different dominant species, as well as providing guidelines on appropriate mowing seasons (see table below). In 2005, best practice was to manage the biomass on a site-specific needs basis in the appropriate season, rather than prescriptive management based on mowing height, although the minimum mowing heights shown in the table below were still generally applicable (see ACT Government 2005).
|Previous published mowing guidelines|
|Mowing season||Mowing height|
|Mow in May/June to remove spent flower heads and in winter (June to August) to reduce fuel load (Groves & Lodder 1991). Mow twice a year in mid winter and late summer, and a third time in mid spring if needed to help control weed growth (Sharp & Dunford 1994b).||Minimum: 7.5 cm (Sharp & Dunford 1994b) to 10 cm (Benson 1994; Groves & Lodder 1991).|
|Mow twice a year in mid winter and late summer, and a third time in mid spring if needed to help control weed growth (Sharp & Dunford 1994b).||Minimum: 7.5 cm (Sharp & Dunford 1994b).|
|Mow in February/March to remove spent flower heads and in winter (June to August) to reduce litter load (Groves & Lodder 1991).||50 cm to remove spent seed heads; 20 cm to reduce litter load (Groves & Lodder 1991).|
|Mow in mid summer/summer (Rehwinkel 1996b; Rowell 1994) or March/April (Groves & Lodder 1991) to remove spent flower heads and in autumn (Rehwinkel 1996b; Rowell 1994) or June to August (Groves & Lodder 1991) to reduce litter load. Never mow more than twice annually in autumn or late winter (Sharp & Dunford 1994b).||Minimum: 5 cm (Groves & Lodder 1991) to 10 cm (Groves & Lodder 1991; Sharp & Dunford 1994b).|
|20-30 cm in summer; 10-15 cm in autumn (Rehwinkel 1996b; Rowell 1994).|
Where mowing is used as part of a management strategy for collecting seed for grassland restoration, the removal of seed must be monitored (and, if necessary, controlled) to avoid over-collection/over-harvesting, especially of uncommon species (Sharp & Dunford 1994b; Sharp & Rehwinkel 1998).
The timing, selectivity, intensity and duration of grazing are critical factors in designing an appropriate grazing regime for natural temperate grassland remnants (Eddy 2002; Rowell 1994). Consideration of total grazing pressure (i.e. from domestic stock, native and feral animals) is essential to ensure a holistic approach to grazing management (ACT Government 2005). Grazing regimes also need to take account the functional traits of plant species (e.g. whether they are annuals or perennials; their ability to spread vegetatively; their mechanisms for seed dispersal) (Dorrough et al. 2004) and of the specific food and shelter requirements of threatened invertebrates (Rowell 1994).
It is particularly important to allow plant species to flower and set seed (Benson 1994; Eddy 2002). Eddy (2002) recommended that grasslands be grazed only very lightly (e.g. no more than one sheep per hectare) or not at all during flowering and seed production (usually late spring to early summer). At other times, higher stocking rates should only be maintained for short periods of time as this is less likely to cause changes in the floristic composition resulting from stock grazing preferences (Eddy 2002).
Observations in travelling stock reserves (TSRs) containing remnants of natural temperate grassland have suggested that intermittent, heavy, short-term grazing is preferable to continuous light grazing to maintain the community's structure and floristic composition, minimise the selective grazing of highly palatable species, and ensure that grazing-sensitive native species are not lost in the long term (Rehwinkel 1996c, 1996d, 1998; Sharp & Rehwinkel 1998; Rowell 1994). Grazing in high quality grassland remnants located in TSRs is best carried out from mid to late summer to mid winter to avoid damage to native plants when they are actively growing, flowering and setting seed (Rehwinkel 1996c, 1996d; Rowell 1994).
Where the qualities of listed natural temperate grassland remnants have been retained under a historical stock grazing regime, it is appropriate for the regime to be continued (Sharp & Rehwinkel 1998) although it may be necessary to reduce the stocking rates (Dorrough 1996; Sharp & Dunford 1994a, 1994b) to improve the quality of the grassland. Sharp and Dunford (1994a, 1994b) noted that grazing by cattle was preferable to grazing by sheep, as sheep cause more soil compaction, tracks, concentration of waste and severe grazing pressure. Removal of stock or a reduction in their grazing intensity may exacerbate weed problems and require complementary weed control (Sharp & Rehwinkel 1998; Rowell 1994).
Grazing has been used as a specific management tool for natural temperate grassland in some conservation reserves in the ACT (Sharp & Shorthouse 1996; Lunt 2005) and NSW (e.g. New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service 2005; Rehwinkel 2007a). The management regime used in the ACT is outlined in Sharp (2000).
In a comprehensive review of the effects of stock grazing on the biodiversity values of grassy ecosystems in southeast Australia, Lunt (2005) summarized general principles applicable to grazing aimed at achieving conservation outcomes in these ecosystems (including natural temperate grassland). The principles are:
- Grazing stock should not be introduced to high quality remnants that have not been grazed historically.
- Grazing managers should aim to promote a spatially variable, structurally complex grassland structure; uniformly short, closely-cropped 'grazing lawns' are undesirable.
- Continuous grazing should be avoided wherever possible. Intermittent grazing, interspersed with rest periods, is preferred.
- Within seasonal or annual periods, the longer the rest period the better. Intensive grazing over short periods interspersed by lengthy rest periods is commonly advocated.
- Sites should be rested when desired native plants are flowering and setting seed in spring and early summer.
- Supplementary feeding should not be used, and stock should be moved when animal health cannot be maintained.
- Fertilisers should not be applied and exotic pasture species should not be sown.
Lunt (2005) provided further principles to help determine the grazing history, landscape context, reserve and vegetation scale circumstances under which it is appropriate to use grazing to promote grassland plant diversity (see also Lunt et al. 2007).
ACT Government (2005) notes that there is still considerable uncertainty about the use of fire as a management tool in native grasslands, including the extent to which the results of burning in one area can be extrapolated and applied to other areas.
Sharp and Dunford (1994a, 1994b) considered that fire should be used as a management tool only in natural temperate grassland remnants that have been burnt regularly in the past or where is it recommended for specific species. In general, long unburnt areas should not be burnt (Sharp & Dunford 1994a, 1994b; Sharp & Rehwinkel 1998) or burnt in patches to allow the fire impacts to be monitored (Rowell 1994). Burning may also not be appropriate in grassland remnants on shallow soils or in lower rainfall areas (Eddy 2002).
Where fire is proposed for management, the timing, intensity, frequency and extent of burns need to be considered in developing a fire management regime, with fires timed to allow grassland species to flower and set seed (Eddy 2002), noting that some species may require fire to enhance germination and establishment (Sharp & Rehwinkel 1998). Eddy (2002) recommended only burning in mid to late summer, and avoiding intense fires that will kill plants and soil seed stores, and noted that burning should be carried out only as often as is needed to reduce excessive biomass. Eddy (2002), Dorough (1996) and Sharp and Rehwinkel (1998) all recommended the use of patch burning to ensure unburnt areas are present for faunal refuges. A rotation burn pattern (i.e. burn different patches each year) is also considered preferable (Eddy 2002).
Burn frequencies of once every two or three years have been recommended for natural temperate grassland in the Southern Tablelands area, especially those dominated by Themeda triandra (e.g. Barrer 1993; Eddy 2002; Groves & Lodder 1991; Sharp & Dunford 1994b). This frequency is slightly greater than advocated for Themeda triandra grasslands in southern Victoria. Morgan and Lunt (1999) consider that the latter grasslands should be burnt about every five years or less to maintain the health and competitiveness of Themeda tussocks, maintain faunal habitat for endangered invertebrates and also benefit the inter-tussock native flora. These authors also noted however that different fire regimes may be required to maintain native species diversity at different sites.
Morgan (1999) concluded that annual burns in Themeda-dominated grassland in Victoria with a high proportion of summer-dormant perennial species was unlikely to lead to a decline in floristic richness and plant density at least in the short-term. He predicted that burning at intervals >3 years would have more substantial long-term effects.
Although it is usually recommended that burning be carried out in summer after plants have flowered and set seed (e.g. Eddy 2002), the season of burn should also take account of the needs of individual plant and animal species present in the grasslands (Dorrough 1996; see also Rowell 1994; Sharp 1994). Groves and Lodder (1991) noted that fires in June to August can be used to rejuvenate the grass sward of communities dominated by Austrodanthonia, Poa and Themeda.
Best practice for natural temperate grassland in the Southern Tablelands area has been not to adhere to a prescriptive fire frequency regime, but to be guided by the level of grass biomass present and use fire as a means of reducing the biomass on a site- and biomass-specific needs basis (Sharp 2003).
When fire is proposed as a management tool for natural temperate grassland, the risk of it promoting weed species needs to be assessed (Rowell 1994) as the benefits of fire to native plant diversity may be overwhelmed by post-fire weed invasion (Morgan & Lunt 1999). Where the soil seed store of grasslands is dominated by exotic species, as has been found in Themeda grassland in the ACT (Pavlovic 1982, cited in Sharp 1994), these species are likely to become dominant after fire (Sharp 1994). Burning may also enhance invasion by the perennial grass weeds Eragrostis curvula (African Lovegrass) (Sharp & Rehwinkel 1998) and Nasella neesiana (Chilean Needlegrass) (Muyt 2001).
Weed management strategies must take account of where sensitive native species and serious weeds occur, and when each species actively grows (Davies 1999). Eddy (2002) considered the best way to keep weed populations under control in natural temperate grassland is to maintain a dense ground cover of native plants, particularly during late autumn and winter when most weed species are germinating and establishing. Other mechanisms such as hand weeding, strategic grazing, mowing or burning, and spot-spraying of appropriate chemicals may also help (Dorrough 1996; Eddy 2002; Sharp & Dunford 1994a, 1994b; Sharp & Rehwinkel 1998). Soil between grass tussocks that is covered by a crust or lichens, mosses etc should not be disturbed (e.g. by machinery or vehicles, or through planting with other species) (ACT Government 2005). General issues around weed management on the Monaro are discussed in Berridale Rocky Plain Landcare Group (1998).
Hand weeding has been proposed as the most appropriate removal mechanism in high conservation grasslands (e.g. see Sharp & Rehwinkel 1998). These authors also noted that where mowing is used to control some weed species by removing the seed heads before they ripen, frequent mowing may be necessary until the species is controlled. To minimise the introduction of weeds to travelling stock reserves (TSRs), Eddy (1999d, 1999e) recommended quarantining livestock and horses in weed-free paddocks or yards before they are taken to the reserves. He also noted that livestock should be removed rather than being fed hay or grain in a TSR.
Rowell (1994) noted that the use of non-selective herbicides, cultivation, cropping, heavy grazing and pasture improvement aimed at getting rid of Eragrostis curvula (African Lovegrass) and other weeds in natural temperate grassland in the southern part of the Southern Tablelands were also degrading the communities. Rowell (1994) indicated that weed management should be 'tailored for particular plant communities and site conditions' and stressed the need to avoid management activities that create disturbance which encourages further weed invasion. Rehwinkel (1996d) also considered that control of weeds with chemicals was detrimental to grasslands unless spot-spraying is used, and was concerned that chemicals may also adversely affect the grassland fauna and micro-flora.
Studies in southern Victoria have indicated that vigorous, healthy swards of Themeda triandra may make the grassland more resistant to invasion by Nassella neesiana (Chilean Needlegrass), and that the potential for it to invade increases if grassland areas are left unburnt for long periods (Morgan & Lunt 1999). In these grasslands, Morgan (1998) suggested the use of fire regimes that prevent seed set by weeds and minimise soil disturbance to help minimise increases in weed cover. In western basalt plains grassland in Victoria, Phillips (2000) developed a method involving herbicide application, thatching and removal of thatch that allowed Serrated Tussock (Nasella trichotoma) infestations there to be replaced by the native Kangaroo Grass (Themeda triandra).
Management activities that should be avoided to minimise weed invasion or expansion include too-frequent burning, burning sites with a soil bank of weed seeds, addition of fertiliser, run-on of fertilisers or excess water, heavy grazing, importing soil, cultivation for fire breaks, and excessive vehicle use (Rowell 1994; Sharp & Rehwinkel 1998). The introduction of weed seeds through movement of vehicles, machinery, people, stock and organic material (e.g. soil) should also be avoided (Dorrough 1996; Eddy 2002).
A comprehensive weed management program at Kuma Nature Reserve over four years reduced the weeds Echium vulgare (Vipers Bugloss), Hypericum perforatum (St Johns Wort), Carthamus lantus (Saffron Thistle) and Silybum marianum (Variegated Thistle) to easily manageable isolated patches, and largely controlled Serrated Tussock (Nassella trichotoma) (New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service 2005). Continued annual spraying over that time was not successful in controlling Eragrostis curvula (African Love Grass). Drought conditions and winter grazing programs were thought to have exacerbated its spread in the reserve.
Management for faunal habitat
Natural temperate grassland in the Southern Tablelands area generally has a rich diversity of invertebrates, reptiles, amphibians and birds present (Environment ACT 2005). Characteristic faunal species are described by ACT Government (2005) and Environment ACT (2005). Various faunal studies are reported by Osborne and colleagues (1995), Rowell (1994) and Sharp and Dunford (1994a).
Grassland invertebrates are particularly important in the community (Sharp & Dunford 1994a) and may be the dominant faunal element (Yen 1995). Relatively little is known about the ecology of invertebrates (ACT Governmen
The Southern Rivers Catchment Management Authority (CMA) established the Monaro Grasslands Program in 2002 to "provide support to landholders managing native grasses for productivity and conservation on the Monaro" (Southern Rivers Catchment Management Authority undated). Activities under the program include testing the effect of different grazing regimes on the biodiversity of grassland communities, modelling and mapping the distribution of native grasslands and associated vegetation types and mapping weed infestations of species such as Serrated Tussock (Nasella trichotoma).
Community groups active as at October 2007 included the Monaro Grassland Conservation Management Network (CMN), the Southern Tablelands Grassy Ecosystems Conservation Management Network, and the Friends of Grasslands. The CMNs provide database support, newsletters, extension activities including field days, and assistance with funding and management planning (Environment ACT 2005; see also Eddy 2007).
In mid 2007, the Monaro Grassland CMN's membership included more than 70 private landholders in the Monaro region (Eddy 2007), up from 50 landholders in 2005 (Eddy 2005). Members also include land managers, local Rural Land Protection Boards, three local governments and other people with an interest in grassland conservation (Eddy 2005). The Southern Rivers CMA helps support the Monaro Grassland CMN as part of the CMA's Monaro Grasslands Program (Southern Rivers Catchment Management Authority undated).
The Southern Tablelands Grassy Ecosystems CMN was established around mid 2003 (see Rehwinkel 2003a). It has secured funding until mid 2009, including from the Southern Rivers and Hawkesbury Nepean CMAs, and in early 2008 had a membership of around 600 (New South Wales Department of Environment and Climate Change, Queanbeyan Office, unpublished information, April 2008).
Activities carried out by the Friends of Grasslands include providing help to landowners and grassland managers, hands-on conservation work, workshops, education programs and community liaison, surveys and monitoring, and assistance with funding applications (Friends of Grasslands 2007).
The Kosciuszko to Coast (K2C) initiative, which is actively promoting the conservation of natural temperate grassland, also has a community network focus and aims to provide field training, promote voluntary conservation agreements and carry out other grassland conservation activities (Anon undated). Partners in K2C include a range of non-government organisations and the NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change (Anon undated).
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This database is designed to provide statutory, biological and ecological information on species and ecological communities, migratory species, marine species, and species and species products subject to international trade and commercial use protected under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act). It has been compiled from a range of sources including listing advice, recovery plans, published literature and individual experts. While reasonable efforts have been made to ensure the accuracy of the information, no guarantee is given, nor responsibility taken, by the Commonwealth for its accuracy, currency or completeness. The Commonwealth does not accept any responsibility for any loss or damage that may be occasioned directly or indirectly through the use of, or reliance on, the information contained in this database. The information contained in this database does not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth. This database is not intended to be a complete source of information on the matters it deals with. Individuals and organisations should consider all the available information, including that available from other sources, in deciding whether there is a need to make a referral or apply for a permit or exemption under the EPBC Act.
Citation: Department of the Environment (2014). Natural Temperate Grassland of the Southern Tablelands of NSW and the Australian Capital Territory in Community and Species Profile and Threats Database, Department of the Environment, Canberra. Available from: http://www.environment.gov.au/sprat. Accessed 2014-10-01T10:46:02AEST.