The Brigalow Belt biogeographic region of Queensland contains populations of over 20 species of threatened reptiles. Two of the most poorly known of these species are the Yakka skink (Egernia rugosa) and Dunmall’s Snake (Furina dunmalli).
Both of these species are listed as vulnerable under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 and the Queensland Nature Conservation Act 1992.
As such, disturbance of their potential habitat is an issue that needs to be addressed by resources companies (like coal seam gas (CSG) companies) operating in the Surat Basin.
Predictive modelling of potential habitat enables you to account for habitat disturbances to date as well as predict those which may happen over the course of a development project.
In the case of the Yakka skink and Dunmall’s snake, however, the predictive power of models is limited because so little is known about the habitat requirements of both species.
In 2016, Boobook Ecological Consulting was commissioned by a project proponent to undertake a research project on the habitat preferences of both species in the southern Brigalow Belt (BBS). The results were to be fed into predictive habitat models to assist in the identification of essential habitat for the species.
This collaborative project involved Boobook staff as well as ecologists and zoologists from the Queensland Department of Environment and Science (DES) and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).
Key project elements were:
- Collating of desktop information on all known records of both species within the BBS
- These records were sourced from public databases and company/consultant ecology records, as well as our own records and those of other participating ecologists
- Designing a sampling approach to allow the survey of representative samples of regional ecosystems (RE) known or likely to support the species
- Field surveys undertaken between November 2016 and March 2017.
Habitat assessments were undertaken at 174 survey plots across the BBS.
A total of 322 searches were undertaken for the species, involving 214 person-hours of search effort.
Surveys at each predetermined site included diurnal (day-time) searches for both species and nocturnal (night-time) searches for Dunmall’s Snake. Diurnal searches involved detecting burrows of yakka skink, visual observations of animals outside burrows and around logs and log piles, as well as rolling rocks, logs and fallen bark.
The active search component of this project likely represents one of the largest reptile-specific field surveys in terms of search effort and geographic range undertaken within the BBS. It remains the most intensive search effort directed at the two target species within the bioregion to date.
New habitat information collected for Yakka skink enabled the distribution and habitat requirements of the species to be refined. This information was fed into models to assist with predictive identification of habitat so that disturbances to its habitat could be better qualified.
Research on Dunmall’s snake is ongoing as insufficient new information was gathered from the field surveys. This remains a rare species which is very difficult to detect.