WA Threatened Species Forum Review

By Chrissy Elmer
Chrissy Elmer

The 2017 WA Threatened Species Forum hosted by Natural Resource Management WA (a combination of the seven regional NRM groups in WA, including NAAC), and the Department of Biodiversity Conservation and Attractions was a highlight of my year. I’m very grateful to NAAC for providing me the opportunity to attend.

I am currently the lab manager of the Mayfield lab from the University of Queensland. Our lab members have been researching annual plant communities in the highly diverse York-Gum Jam Woodlands of South-West WA for quite a few years now. Attending the Forum was a fantastic opportunity for representatives of the lab to meet with local researchers, conservationists, and stakeholders. We formed lasting relationships that will hopefully help us collectively increase our understanding of WA’s unique biodiversity and the best ways to conserve it.

The Forum highlighted the key issues pertaining to threatened species research, conservation, and relevant strategies. Gathering speakers from across the state, the Forum talks ranged from scientific research, to conservation and restoration projects from citizen science groups and government alike.

The inspiring keynote speakers all had an infectious passion for their work and paved the way for further great talks. The now Acting Threatened Species Commissioner Sebastian Lang gave an overview of the great work that his office does in implementing projects to manage threatened species.  Carlos Drews from the Jane Goodall Institute described emotional and inspiring stories from his work in Gombe National Park, where work is underway to conserve and understand chimps and also help the local people. Penny Figgis from the Oceania IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas gave an overview of the progress in achieving the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, and also outlined additional considerations in response to the extinction crisis. The director of the Threatened Species Recovery Hub and Professor at University of Melbourne, Brendan Wintle, talked about the importance of collaboration and the network of researchers across Australia working to conserve a diverse array of threatened species.

I personally have an interest in restoration, so I was excited to hear Liz McLellan talk about the work Bush Heritage does to restore landscapes. From a more empirical science angle, it was fascinating to hear about Alison Ritchie’s research on restoring pollinator services in fragmented Banksia Woodlands, and Wolfgang Lewendrowski’s investigation into using seed traits to predict seedling performance in a restoration project.

I was deeply inspired by the citizen science groups who volunteer their time to aid in the conservation of key species. Sean Van Alphen particularly stood out to me with his passion and enthusiasm for numbat spotting. His work has greatly improved understanding of the current location and abundances of numbat populations. Similarly, Rebecca Boyland from WWF spoke of her experience in managing citizen science projects to monitor the southern brown bandicoot, water rat, and various priority flora in WA. She emphasised that for a citizen science project to succeed, it is essential to find a balance between the complexity of the task, the amount of skill required and the location of the task, as these are all aspects that can influence participation rates and the amount of data acquired. Additionally, Rebecca highlighted how difficult it is to explain the importance of absence data and challenged the listeners to think of a good analogy to tell the participants. The best analogy I could think of was to liken it to a toilet roll, it’s important to know if there is no toilet paper left!

Overall, I had a wonderful two days in Geraldton at the Form and came away from it very inspired! With collaboration, networking and a passion for conservation, together we can work to protect Western Australia’s unique and wonderful threatened species. I thank NACC immensely for providing the opportunity for me and my colleagues to attend!

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