Biodiversity is the variety of all living things; the different plants, animals and micro organisms, the genetic information they contain and the ecosystems they form.
Biodiversity is vital to supporting human life. It ensures clean air, water and healthy soil, provides food and medicine, fuel, building materials and clothing, is the source of natural beauty and benefits our wellbeing, produces oxygen, recycles nutrients, pollinates crops and helps regulate climate. It also enhances enjoyment of outdoor activities and inspiration for art and culture and is valuable in itself.
In NSW alone there are around 83 species of amphibians, 230 species of reptiles, 452 species of birds, 138 species of terrestrial mammals, 40 species of marine mammals, and 4677 plants, plus countless species of invertebrates, algae and fungi.
Some species amongst this biodiversity are considered threatened.
What is a threatened species?
A species is considered threatened if:
- its population size has decreased
- its range is restricted
- there are few mature individuals
Ecological communities can also be threatened. On the Armidale Plateau (which includes Armidale, Uralla, Walcha and Guyra) there are at least 76 threatened species and 6 threatened communities. These include birds, frogs, a snake, bats and other mammals, and plants. This area is very rich in biodiversity and conservation value, for example, the Gondwana Rainforests on the edge of the plateau are recognised as having World Heritage Status.
Threatened Species Day was declared in 1996 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the death of the last remaining Tasmanian tiger (also known as the thylacine) at Hobart Zoo in 1936. Threatened Species Day is a time to reflect on what happened in the past and how similar fates to the thylacine could await other native plants and animals unless appropriate action is taken.
In this area, there is a high level of animal and plant diversity and endemism (unique to this area). For example, over 70 species of eucalyptus occur on the New England Tablelands and about a third are endemic. Some of the many plants and animals that live locally are:
Sweet bursaria - Sweet bursaria is known as native blackthorn, and grows in native forests. The seed capsules are like dainty brown purses.
Narrow-leaved Black Peppermint - This eucalyptus is now more commonly seen as a street tree or in gardens as it is quite rare in the wild. It only grows in dry grassy woodland and shallow and infertile soils in the New England Tablelands between Nundle and Tenterfield. The bark is rough, and during autumn it has creamy white flowers.
Jacky lizard - The Jacky lizard (also known as the Jacky dragon) was one of the first Australian reptiles to be given a European name. English zoologist, George Shaw, named it Amphibolurus muricatus, prior to 1790 (Atlas of Living Australia). It has a distinctive row of spines down its body and can often be seen perching, statue-still, on fence posts and trees.
Regent Honeyeater - The Regent Honeyeater is critically endangered. As its name suggests, it primarily feeds on nectar from eucalypts and occasionally banksias and mistletoes. In order to survive on nectar, it relies on abundant plants with a variety of flowering times so it can feed all year round. The Regent Honeyeater is considered a flagship species, which means that efforts to improve its conservation will also benefit other threatened or endangered fauna. To find out more about helping the Regent Honeyeater, visit its Threatened Species Profile.
Tawny Frogmouth - Tawny Frogmouths are known to nest in large trees in backyards in this area, and are sometimes seen resting on horizontal branches during the day (although they often look like the tree due to their beautiful, variegated feathers). They are often mistaken for owls, due to their appearance and nocturnalism.
Peppered tree frog - A search has been on for the peppered tree frog, which has not been seen since the 1970s, and may in fact be extinct. Similarly patterned frogs have been seen in a creek near Glen Innes, but they were found to be a patterned version of the cascade tree frog. In the 1980s, there seems to have been such a sudden decline in the species that it was unable to be recorded, and was in fact declared a species after its disappearance. Some people suggest that it is not a distinct species at all, but this question may only be solved if this mysterious frog can be rediscovered.
Christmas beetle - This well-known type of scarab beetle, are called Christmas beetles because they are abundant around Christmas. They are noisy and clumsy fliers, and often have iridescent shells.
Brown antechinus - The brown antechinus is one of the mostly commonly recorded small mammals in our area (Atlas of Living Australia). This large-eared, small marsupial is between 7 and 14cm long with a tail about the same length as its body. Sharp incisor teeth indicate its fiercely carnivorous nature. Antechinus are mostly nocturnal, so during the day they rest in groups – fallen timber and old trees are important sheltering places. Males live for less than a year, as they die of exhaustion after the breeding season.
Kangaroo Grass - This widespread grass grows in Australia, Asia and Africa. The seed heads ripen in summer and Aboriginal people locally collected them to grind into flour. It was also well-known to the early European explorers, being mentioned often in their journals. Now it is commonly seen along roadsides in our area. The seed heads often droop and are reminiscent of kangaroo’s paws, with a characteristic reddish colour in Autumn.
Bell’s Turtle - This recently-listed endangered species lives only in high altitude rivers and creeks in northern NSW. It is threatened by foxes, who are known to raid turtle nests, and other animals, for which it young turtles are a bite-sized snack. Landholders, scientists and Local Land Services are working together to breed, release and protect Bell’s turtles. Another member of the team, a springer spaniel named Bunyah, has been trained to sniff out nests which can then be protected.
Wetlands: Little Llangothlin Lagoon, Mother of Ducks Lagoon and Dangars Lagoon
Water levels are changeable in these important lagoons. They are vital for supporting a number of wetland and migratory bird species, such as ducks, ibis and egrets, along with vulnerable and rare birds in times of drought. Sub-heading 3:
There is much that we can do:
- Recognise that the native vegetation on your property may be important. It may be habitat, food or a threatened species may grow there. Many small plants can appear insignificant and hide in amongst other vegetation.
- Look at your garden – does it have different layers of vegetation such as a combination of trees, shrubs and ground covers?
- Create places for birds and enjoy having them around
- Build a home – a nesting box, frog pond or bee hotel.
- Keep fungicides, pesticides and herbicides to a minimum, or avoid using them where ever possible.
- Appreciate and learn about local biodiversity – along creeklands, in parks, in your compost heap
- Get involved in citizen science
- For biodiversity, citizen science means the participation of all of us who are not biological scientists observing the world around us and sharing what we see with scientific programs. This allows for more information and knowledge to be gathered in our quest to learn more about biodiversity. The enthusiasm, interest and efforts of volunteers is valuable, and it is fun and easy to participate.
- Look up citizen science projects on the internet, or look out for activities such as the Aussie Backyard Bird Count or Wild Pollinator Count.
- The Atlas of Living Australia is one organisation that welcomes citizen scientists.
- Join others in looking after natural places
SNELC (Southern New England Landcare) incorporates many local groups, including enthusiastic urban and local parkland volunteers. See ‘Our Groups’ section of the SNELC website
SLA (Sustainable Living Armidale) A is a volunteer organisation made up of action groups, including waste, energy, transport, boomerang bags, local food, Armidale Urban River Care and community garden.
Armidale biodiversity walk (PDF 4MB)
Native Plants of Southern New England (PDF 2MB)