Wildlife Research Wildlife Research Society
Ecology, management and conservation in natural and modified habitats

Monitoring change in the vertebrate fauna of central Queensland, Australia, over a period of broad-scale vegetation clearance, 1973–2002

J. C. Z. Woinarski A , J. C. McCosker B , G. Gordon C , B. Lawrie D , C. James E , J. Augusteyn E , L. Slater F and T. Danvers E

A Department of Natural Resources, Environment & the Arts, PO Box 496, Palmerston, NT 0831, Australia.

B Environmental Protection Agency, PO Box 906, Emerald, Qld 4720, Australia.

C Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, PO Box 155, Albert Street, Brisbane, Qld 4002, Australia.

D Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, PO Box 731, Toowoomba, Qld 4350, Australia.

E Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, PO Box 1330, North Rockhampton, Qld 4700, Australia.

F Australasian Resource Consultants Pty Ltd, Suite 5b, Swann Road, Taringa, Qld 4068, Australia.

Wildlife Research 33(4) 263-274 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/WR03110
Submitted: 28 November 2003  Accepted: 12 April 2006   Published: 27 June 2006


This study reports change in the bird, mammal and amphibian fauna of the Emerald district, central Queensland, as detected from comparison of an inventory study undertaken in 1973–76, with a resurvey undertaken in 2001–02. Over this period, the region was subjected to unusually high rates of vegetation clearance, with the extent of native vegetation declining from 87% to 41%. In Australia, and elsewhere, there are remarkably few such long-term longitudinal studies, and particularly so for those that sample the same sites using identical procedures, and for those undertaken in a region of such dramatic environmental change. The ability to detect change from this dataset is constrained by the relatively small number of survey sites (24–45 survey sites, depending upon the taxonomic group considered). The interpretation of change is also affected by very different climatic conditions between the baseline and resurvey. Higher rainfall in the baseline survey period contributed to the most evident change, a major reduction in the number of waterbirds. However, even with waterbirds excluded, there was a significant change in the bird assemblage across the set of survey sites between the two periods. There were significant increases for a number of typically grassland birds (e.g. red-backed fairy-wren (Malurus melanocephalus), brown quail (Coturnix ypsilophora)) and significant decreases for a range of typically forest or woodland birds (e.g. grey shrike-thrush (Colluricincla harmonica), spiny-cheeked honeyeater (Acanthagenys rufogularis), striped honeyeater (Plectorhyncha lanceolata), grey fantail (Rhipidura fuliginosa)). These changes were largely maintained even when the dataset was restricted to only those sites that remained uncleared: that is, changes were evident not only across the changing landscape as a whole but there were also significant (consequential) changes at uncleared sites. Most of the native mammal species that were recorded sufficiently often to test for change showed a pattern of decline. Again, for some species (pale field-rat (Rattus tunneyi), greater glider (Petauroides volans) and eastern grey kangaroo (Macropus giganteus)), this decline occurred even within uncleared woodland sites. The most notable change in the frog fauna was the major increase in the exotic cane toad (Bufo marinus), but there were also significant declines for two native frog species. These results suggest a general trajectory of decline in distinctive woodland species, and their broad-scale replacement by more commensal species (weedy generalists favoured by human modification of the landscape).


Accad A., Neldner V. J., Wilson B. A., and Neihus R. E. (2001). Remnant vegetation in Queensland: analysis of pre-clearing, remnant 1997–1999 Regional Ecosystem information. Queensland Herbarium, Environmental Protection Agency, Brisbane.

Andren H. 1994 Effects of habitat fragmentation on birds and mammals in landscapes with different proportions of suitable habitat: a review. Oikos 71 355 366

Barnard C. 1917 Bird-life as affected by drought. Emu 16 234 236

Barnard C. A. 1925 A review of the bird life on Coomooboolaroo Station, Duaringa district, Queensland, during the past fifty years. Emu 24 252 265

Barrett G. W. Ford H. A. Recher H. F. 1994 Conservation of woodland birds in a fragmented rural landscape. Pacific Conservation Biology 1 245 256

Barrett G., Silcocks A., Barry S., Cunningham R., and Poulter R. (2003). ‘The New Atlas of Australian Birds.’ (Royal Australasian Ornithologists Union: Melbourne.)

Bennett A. F. Ford H. A. 1997 Landuse, habitat change and the conservation of birds in fragmented rural environments: a landscape perspective from the Northern Plains, Victoria, Australia. Pacific Conservation Biology 3 244 261

Bierregard R. O. Lovejoy T. E. Kapos V. Augusto dos Santos A. Hutchings R. W. 1992 The biological dynamics of tropical rainforest fragments. Bioscience 42 859 866

Blakers M., Davies S. J. J. F., and Reilly P. N. (1984). ‘The Atlas of Australian Birds.’ (Melbourne University Press: Melbourne.)

Christidis L., and Boles W. E. (1994). ‘The Taxonomy and Species of Birds of Australia and its Territories.’ (Royal Australasian Ornithologists Union: Melbourne.)

Clarke K. R. 1993 Non-parametric multivariate analyses of changes in community structure. Australian Journal of Ecology 18 117 143

Clarke K. R., and Gorley R. N. (2001). ‘PRIMER v5: User Manual/Tutorial.’ (PRIMER-E: Portsmouth.)

Clewett J. F., Smith P. G., Partridge I. J., George D. A., and Peacock A. (1999). AUSTRALIAN RAINMAN. Version 3: An Integrated software package of Rainfall Information for Better Management. Department of Primary Industries Queensland, Brisbane.

Cogger H. G. (2000). ‘Reptiles and Amphibians of Australia.’ 6th edn. (Reed New Holland: Sydney.)

Davies S. J. J. F. 1977 Man’s activities and birds’ distribution in the arid zone. Emu 77 169 172

Debinski D. M. Holt R. D. 2000 A survey and overview of habitat fragmentation experiments. Conservation Biology 14 342 355

Ellison A. M. 1996 An introduction to Bayesian inference for ecological research and environmental decision-making. Ecological Applications 6 1036 1046 DOI

Elzinga C. L., Salzer D. W., Willoughby J. W., and Gibbs J. P. (2001). ‘Monitoring Plant and Animal Populations.’ (Blackwell Science: Malden, MA.)

Fahrig L. 2002 Effect of habitat fragmentation on the extinction threshold: a synthesis. Ecological Applications 12 346 353

Finlayson H. H. 1931 On mammals from the Dawson Valley, Queensland. Part I. Transactions of the Royal Society of South Australia 55 67 89

Finlayson H. H. 1934 On mammals from the Dawson and Fitzroy valleys, central coastal Queensland. Part II. Transactions of the Royal Society of South Australia 58 218 231

Ford H. A. Barrett G. W. Saunders D. A. Recher H. F. 2001 Why have birds in the woodlands of southern Australia declined? Biological Conservation 97 71 88

Garnett S. T., and Crowley G. M. (2000). ‘The Action Plan for Australian Birds 2000.’ (Environment Australia: Canberra.)

Garnett S. T., Crowley G. M., and Barrett G. (2002). Patterns and trends in Australian bird distributions and abundance: preliminary analysis of data from the New Atlas of Australian Birds. Report to the National Land & Water Resources Audit, Canberra.

Gordon G. (1984). Fauna in the Brigalow Belt. In ‘The Brigalow Belt of Australia’. (Ed. P. Sattler.) pp. 61–70. (Royal Society of Queensland: Brisbane.)

Johnstone R. E. Burbidge A. H. Stone P. 2000 Birds of the southern Carnarvon Basin, Western Australia: distribution, status and historical changes. Records of the Western Australian Museum 371 448 Supplement No. 61

Keast A. J. 1995 Habitat loss and species loss: the birds of Sydney 50 years ago and now. Australian Zoologist 30 3 25

Kirkpatrick T. H. 1966 Mammals, birds and reptiles of the Warwick district, Queensland. 1. Introduction and mammals. Queensland Journal of Agricultural and Animal Sciences 23 591 598

Kirkpatrick T. H. 1967 Mammals, birds and reptiles of the Warwick district, Queensland. 2. Birds. Queensland Journal of Agricultural and Animal Sciences 24 81 91

Kirkpatrick T. H. 1968 Mammals, birds and reptiles of the Warwick district, Queensland. 3. Reptiles and general conclusions. Queensland Journal of Agricultural and Animal Sciences 25 235 241

Kirkpatrick T. H. 1979 Fauna surveys in Queensland. Queensland Journal of Agricultural and Animal Sciences 36 181 188

Lavery H. J. Johnson P. M. 1968 Mammals and birds of the Townsville district, north Queensland. 1. Introduction and mammals. Queensland Journal of Agricultural and Animal Sciences 25 29 37

Mac Nally R. 1996 A winter’s tale: among-year variation in bird community structure in a southeastern Australian forest. Australian Journal of Ecology 21 280 291

Mac Nally R. Bennett A. F. 1997 Species-specific predictions of the impacts of habitat fragmentation: local extinctions of birds in the box–ironbark forests of central Victoria, Australia. Biological Conservation 82 147 155

Maron M. Lill A. Watson D. M. Mac Nally R. 2005 Temporal variation in bird assemblages: how representative is a one-year snapshot? Austral Ecology 30 383 394 DOI

Martin T. G. Kuhnert P. M. Mengersen K. Possingham H. P. 2005 The power of expert opinion in ecological models using Bayesian methods: impact of grazing on birds. Ecological Applications 15 266 280

Menkhorst P. (2001). ‘A Field Guide to the Mammals of Australia.’ (Oxford University Press: Melbourne.)

Price O. F. Woinarski J. C. Z. Robinson D. 1999 Very large area requirements for frugivorous birds in monsoon rainforests of the Northern Territory, Australia. Biological Conservation 91 169 180

Radford J. Q. Bennett A. F. Cheers G. J. 2005 Landscape-level thresholds of habitat cover for woodland-dependent birds. Biological Conservation 124 317 337 DOI

Recher H. F. 1999 The state of Australia’s avifauna: a personal opinion and prediction for the new millenium. Australian Zoologist 31 11 27

Reid J. Fleming M. 1992 The conservation status of birds in arid Australia. The Rangeland Journal 14 65 91

Robinson D. (1993). Vale Toolern Vale: the loss of our woodland birds. Wingspan 9, 1–3, 20–21.

Robinson D. Traill B. J. 1996 Conserving woodland birds in the wheat and sheep belts of southern Australia. Wingspan 6 2 1 16

Saunders D. A. 1989 Changes in the avifauna of a region, district and remnant as a result of fragmentation of native vegetation: the wheatbelt of Western Australia. A case study. Biological Conservation 50 99 135

Saunders D. A. Curry P. J. 1990 The impact of agricultural and pastoral industries on birds in the southern half of Western Australia: past, present and future. Proceedings of the Ecological Society of Australia 16 303 321

Saunders D. A., and Ingram J. (1995). ‘Birds of Southwestern Australia: an Atlas of Changes in Distribution and Abundance of the Wheatbelt Fauna.’ (Surrey Beatty: Sydney.)

Saunders F. A. Hobbs R. J. Margules C. R. 1991 Biological consequences of ecosystem fragmentation: a review. Conservation Biology 5 18 32

Serventy D. L. 1977 The use of data on the distributions of birds to monitor climatic changes. Emu 77 162 168

Siegel S. (1956). ‘Nonparametric Statistics for the Behavioural Sciences.’ (McGraw-Hill: Kogakusha, Tokyo.)

Smith P. J., and Smith J. (1994). Historical change in the bird fauna of western New South Wales: ecological patterns and conservation implications. In ‘Future of the Fauna of Western New South Wales’. (Eds D. Lunney, S. Hand, P. Reed and D. Butcher.) pp. 123–148. (Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales: Sydney.)

Traill B. J. Collins E. Peake P. Jessup S. 1996 Current and past status of the birds of Chiltern – a box–ironbark forest in north-eastern Victoria. Australian Bird Watcher 16 309 326

van Dam R. A., Walden D. J., and Begg G. W. (2002). A preliminary risk assessment of cane toads in Kakadu National Park. Report No. 164. Supervising Scientist, Darwin.

Wade P. R. 2000 Bayesian methods in conservation biology. Conservation Biology 14 1308 1316

Watson J. Watson A. Paull D. Freudenberger D. 2003 Woodland fragmentation is causing the decline of species and functional groups of birds in southeastern Australia. Pacific Conservation Biology 8 261 270

Woinarski J. C. Z. Catterall C. P. 2004 Historical changes in the bird fauna at Coomooboolaroo, northeastern Australia, from the early years of pastoral settlement (1873) to 1999. Biological Conservation 116 379 401

Woinarski J. C. Z. Tidemann S. C. 1991 The bird fauna of a deciduous woodland in the wet–dry tropics of northern Australia. Wildlife Research 18 479 500 DOI

Woinarski J. C. Z. Milne D. J. Wanganeen G. 2001 Changes in mammal populations in relatively intact landscapes of Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory, Australia. Austral Ecology 26 360 370 DOI

Woinarski J. C. Z. Armstrong M. Price O. McCartney J. Griffiths T. Fisher A. 2004 The terrestrial vertebrate fauna of Litchfield National Park, Northern Territory: monitoring over a 6-year period, and response to fire history. Wildlife Research 31 587 596 DOI

Export Citation