Assessment of the status of threatened herpetofauna following fire in sub alpine habitat at Lake Mountain and Mount Bullfight, near Marysville, north-east Victoria



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Assessment of the status of threatened herpetofauna following fire in sub alpine habitat at Lake Mountain and Mount Bullfight, near Marysville, north-east Victoria

Black Saturday Victoria 2009 – Natural values fire recovery program



Katie Howard, Nick Clemann, Joanne Antrobus

Assessment of the status of threatened herpetofauna following fire in sub alpine habitat at Lake Mountain and Mount Bullfight, near Marysville, north-east Victoria



Katie Howard
Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research
Department of Sustainability and Environment
PO Box 137, Heidelberg VIC 3084

Nick Clemann
Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research
Department of Sustainability and Environment
PO Box 137, Heidelberg VIC 3084

Joanne Antrobus
Parks Victoria, Yarra Ranges National Park
7–11 Symes Road, Woori Yallock, VIC 3139

This project is No. 8 of the program ‘Rebuilding Together’ funded by the Victorian and Commonwealth governments’ Statewide Bushfire Recovery Plan, launched October 2009.

Published by the Victorian Government Department of Sustainability and Environemnt , February 2012

© The State of Victoria Department of Sustainability and Environment 2012

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Citation: Howard, K., Clemann, N and Antrobus, J. (2012). Assessment of the status of threatened herpetofauna following fire in sub alpine habitat at Lake Mountain and Mount Bullfight, near Marysville, north-east Victoria. Department of Sustainability and Environment, Heidelberg, Victoria.

Front cover photo: Lake Mountain bog system (© Gavin Currie).

All photographs in this report are by Katie Howard unless otherwise credited.

Contents

Acknowledgements iv

Summary v

1 Introduction 1

1.1 The Black Saturday Fires 1

1.2 Study areas 1

1.3 Project background 1

1.4 Distribution and conservation status of the Alpine Tree Frog, Alpine Bog Skink and the Mountain Skink 1

1.5 Project objectives 2

2 Methods 4

2.1 Study areas 4

2.2 Frog surveys and testing for the Amphibian Chytrid Fungus 4

2.3 Lizard surveys 4

3 Results 7

3.1 Lake Mountain 8

3.2 Mount Bullfight Nature Conservation Reserve 12

3.3 Amphibian Chytrid Fungus 15

3.4 Comparison of 2010/2011 Amphibian Chytrid Fungus results to the 2009/2010 results 16

4 Discussion 19

4.1 Frog surveys 19

4.2 Lizard surveys 20

4.3 Management implications 20

5 Future directions and recommendations 21

References 22

Appendix 1 Results of frog surveys conducted at Lake Mountain and Mount Bullfight Nature Conservation Reserve 24

Appendix 2 Results of lizard surveys conducted at Lake Mountain and Mount Bullfight Nature Conservation Reserve 27


List of tables and figures

Tables


Table 1. Results of frog surveys conducted at Lake Mountain on 30 November and 22 December 2010. 8

Table 2. Results of frog surveys conducted at Mount Bullfight Nature Conservation Reserve


on 18, 19 and 24 November 2010. 13

Table 3. Results obtained from swabs for the Amphibian Chytrid Fungus at Lake Mountain and


Mount Bullfight Nature Conservation Reserve. 15

Table 4. Comparison of Amphibian Chytrid Fungus results from the 2009/2010 and 2010/2011 survey seasons


at Lake Mountain. 16

Table 5. Comparison of the Amphibian Chytrid Fungus results from the 2009/2010 and 2010/2011 survey seasons


at Mount Bullfight NCR. 17
Figures

Figure 1. Location of Lake Mountain and Mount Bullfight Nature Conservation Reserve,


and the extent of the fire that affected the area, starting on 7th February 2009. 2

Figure 2. Historic records of the Alpine Tree Frog. 3

Figure 3. Distribution of the Alpine Bog Skink Pseudemoia cryodroma. 3

Figure 4. Location of the Lake Mountain and Mount Bullfight Nature Conservation Reserve survey sites. 4

Figure 5. Location of transects and sites surveyed during the 2010/2011 season at Lake Mountain. 5

Figure 6. Location of transects and sites surveyed during the 2010/2011 season at Mount Bullfight


Nature Conservation Reserve. 6

Figure 7. Bog at Lake Mountain 10 months after the Black Saturday fires. 7

Figure 8. Bog on Echo Flat, Lake Mountain showing vegetation regrowth 21 months after the Black Saturday fires. 7

Figure 9. Site UB3 (left), UB4 (top right) and UB5 (bottom right) on the summit of Mount Bullfight showing


differing degrees of burn severity during the 2009 fires. 7

Figure 10. Litoria ewingii-complex frog from Lake Mountain, 30 November 2010. 9

Figure 11. Litoria ewingii-complex frogs from Lake Mountain, 22 December 2010. 9

Figure 12. Alpine Bog Skinks captured at Lake Mountain, 3 March 2011. 10

Figure 13. Variation in male breeding colours in Alpine Bog Skinks captured at Lake Mountain. 11

Figure 14. Adult Alpine Tree Frog in the lower bog at Mount Bullfight Nature Conservation Reserve. 12

Figure 15. Juvenile Alpine Tree Frogs observed moving throughout the lower bog at Mount Bullfight Nature
Conservation Reserve during the day. 12

Figure 16. Juvenile Alpine Tree Frog found at site UB5 at the upper bog at Mount Bullfight Nature Conservation Reserve. 13

Figure 17. Litoria ewingii-complex frog captured at site UB5 at the upper bog at Mount Bullfight Nature
Conservation Reserve. 13

Figure 18. Southern Grass Skinks captured at both the lower and upper bogs at Mount Bullfight Nature


Conservation Reserve. 14

Figure 19. Likely prevalence of Amphibian Chytrid Fungus at Mount Bullfight Nature Conservation Reserve and Lake Mountain, based on diagnostic testing of swabs collected during 2010/2011. 18

Acknowledgements

This project was funded in 2010/2011 by the Victorian and Commonwealth governments ‘Rebuilding Together’ – Statewide Bushfire Recovery Plan, announced in October 2009. Initial surveys and assessment conducted in 2009/2010 was funded by The Australian Governments ‘Caring for Our Country’ fund, and this fund also contributed to surveys conducted in 2010/2011.

The project was conducted by the Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research, Department of Sustainability and Environment, for Parks Victoria as part of its assessment of significant species affected by the Black Saturday fires. Fieldwork was authorised under the Wildlife Act 1975 and National Parks Act 1975 research permit number 10004714, provided by the Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment.

We gratefully acknowledge the contributions of Stephen Smith (DSE), Stephen Platt (Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services), Ryan Chick, Michael Lindeman, Daniel Purdey and Michael Scroggie (Arthur Rylah Institute), Maggie Haines and Katie Smith (Museum Victoria), Mark Hutchinson (South Australian Museum), Gavin Currie and Murray Littlejohn. Particular thanks to Mick Kealy, Mark Mickelborough, Les Hart, Gary Porter and Dale Woodbridge (Parks Victoria) for carrying the roof tiles to the summit of Mount Bullfight.

Summary

The ‘Black Saturday’ “Murrindindi” fire intensely burnt sub-alpine habitats at Lake Mountain on 7th February 2009. Most of Mount Bullfight Nature Conservation Reserve (NCR) was also burnt, although at a lower intensity than at Lake Mountain.

Several species of herpetofauna that are listed as threatened at state and federal levels are known historically from Lake Mountain. Conversely, the herpetofauna of Mount Bullfight NCR is poorly known. Surveys were conducted in the summer of 2009/2010 to determine the status of the Alpine Tree Frog Litoria verreauxii alpina and the Alpine Bog Skink Pseudemoia cryodroma in these areas. A previously unknown population of Alpine Tree Frogs was detected at Mount Bullfight NCR. The Alpine Bog Skink was recorded at Lake Mountain, although numbers were low. This report documents a second season of surveys for threatened herpetofauna in these areas over the summer of 2010/2011. Survey results from 2010/2011 are compared with 2009/2010 findings.

Diurnal and nocturnal frog surveys were conducted during November and December 2010 at Lake Mountain and Mount Bullfight NCR. Surveys in 2010/2011 were expanded to include bogs at Mount Bullfight NCR that were further upslope than the bog system surveyed in 2009/2010. At the lower bog at Mount Bullfight NCR a large population of Alpine Tree Frogs was detected. Alpine Tree Frogs and Victorian Smooth Froglets Geocrinia victoriana were detected at the upslope bogs. Common Froglets Crinia signifera were detected at the lower bog, and were recorded in large numbers on the upper bog. In addition to the Common Froglets detected at Lake Mountain (the only frog species detected on this plateau in 2009/2010), three Litoria ewingii-complex frogs were detected at Lake Mountain in 2010/2011. It is unknown whether these individuals migrated into the area, were introduced to the area via human activities, or were present during previous surveys but not detected.

Reptile surveys were conducted at Mount Bullfight NCR in November 2010 and March/April 2011, and at Lake Mountain in February/March 2011. Alpine Bog Skinks were captured at Lake Mountain in higher numbers than the previous year. No Alpine Bog Skinks were detected at Mount Bullfight NCR, although one Pseudemoia species of intermediate colour pattern was collected and will be identified through molecular analysis at a later date. The Southern Grass Skink Pseudemoia entrecasteauxii was the most common species captured at Mount Bullfight NCR. The Mountain Skink Liopholis montana was not detected during the present surveys. The Mountain Skink has specific habitat requirements and high site fidelity; consequently, it is easily missed in surveys. Therefore, it is possible the Mountain Skink may occur in the area, but went undetected.

At Lake Mountain, seven of nine sites returned positive tests for the Amphibian Chytrid Fungus.


The Amphibian Chytrid Fungus was not detected on frogs swabbed at Mount Bullfight NCR. Although it is possible that this site was free of the fungus at the time of sampling, the fungus may have been persisting at a low prevalence and not been detected.

The disease chytridiomycosis, caused by the Amphibian Chytrid Fungus, represents the greatest threat to populations of the Alpine Tree Frog at Mount Bullfight NCR. We recommend that all people working in this area adhere to strict hygiene protocols in order to minimise the risk of introducing the Amphibian Chytrid Fungus to Mount Bullfight NCR, and suggest that unnecessary entry to the bog systems in this area be avoided.

We also recommend that additional site management activities be minimised, including road works, as this may introduce the fungus or infected frogs to the area. We suggest that limited weed, deer and predator control could be beneficial if it does not increase the risk of introducing the fungus, and is not carried out in the immediate vicinity of the bog systems. Impacts on habitat at Lake Mountain related to recreational activities or ski resort activities, that cause physical or chemical disturbance to water or native vegetation, should be avoided. Further recommendations are provided including bi-yearly surveying of Alpine Tree Frogs and the Amphibian Chytrid Fungus at Mount Bullfight NCR.

1 Introduction


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