Managing native animals and plants requires sound knowledge of environmental effects of human actions, including managemet programs for weeds, feral animals and fire. In order to judge if control programs have a positive or negative affect on the enviroment, knowledge of the land is paramount.

Graziers understand this concept;  if their grass is in short supply, they move cattle or destock pasture.  Fire managers are aware sound land management as well; if wildfires are burning out country, improved fire management is required.

Across northern Australian savanna and forest regions, native mammals, birds and frogs have been disappearing from the natural landscape. Many studies conducted in the Northern Territory and Western Australia, demonstrate the significant loss of native mammals.

Across Cape York Peninsula there are few long-term studies investigating these effects. Most of the prior surveys do not use systematic methods that can be repeated for monitoring.

No comprehensive assessment of trends in biodiversity health has been undertaken on Cape York Peninsula. Recent small-scale studies hint that there may be faunal decline in some locations, but there are too few sites to determine if these are short-term fluctuations, long-term declines, or local or regional trends.

So how do we know whether our actions to reverse losses of native fauna are working? Proper surveys and monitoring are needed to ensure our interventions such as weed removal are working. Without surveys, there is no evidence that work results in increases in native animals.

It is important to understand what is happening to species and ecosystems across Cape York Peninsula, given the serious declines of species elsewhere, and the extensive management practices being implemented across the Cape. This can be done through establishing a network of benchmark sites across the Cape, and to establish these as monitoring sites. This means that trends in biodiversity can be determined, and causes of decline identified.

About a dozen of the former biodiversity studies on Cape York could be used as benchmark sites. They include around 170 site locations, confined to a few areas across Cape York Peninsula. Future surveys can be repeated at many of these sites, using the same methods, to determine trends at these sites.

Trends in biodiversity distribution and abundance however, need to be determined at a regional or sub-regional scale, utilising a network of multiple sites to determine the degree and extent of observed trends. Cape York NRM is working to obtain further funds to undertake these studies. Some have commenced, including the CSIRO fire and biodiversity studies, funded partly by Cape York NRM.

Photo of 2 guys and a rock Conducting fauna surveys on Cape York

Story by Noel Preece