Revealing native fauna on cotton farms (April 2017)

A four-day fauna survey on the farm of Cotton RiverCare Champion Mark Palfreyman yielded more than 130 different species of native animals – a promising result, according to Mark.

“It’s encouraging to see such a great diversity of species on our farm, especially considering this was only a short snapshot in time,” Mark said.

“We know that there are other species here that were not spotted during the survey – some of the smaller mammals, for instance, like the narrow nosed planigale.”

The survey, part of the CRDC-supported and CottonInfo-led Cotton RiverCare project, was conducted by ecologist Phil Spark on the Palfreyman’s ‘Taraba’ in October 2016. The native species recorded during the survey included: seven fish, 13 frog, 24 reptile, 11 mammal and 76 bird species.

CottonInfo technical specialist Stacey Vogel said it was a pleasing result for a cotton landscape.

“According to the Living Atlas database, a number of species spotted during the survey, like the vulnerable silver perch and the silver catfish or moonfish, had not been recorded this far east before,” Stacey said.

“That’s a really interesting discovery, and it shows the diversity of native species that can be found on – and near – cotton farms.”

However, the abundance of each species recorded during the survey was quite low – a worrying trend not only on ‘Taraba’, but right across Australia, says Stacey.

“This is thought to be linked to habitat loss and fragmentation,” she says.

“Take for example microbats – seven of which were found in the survey.

“We know from research – in cotton and elsewhere – that microbats play a significant role in natural pest control in cotton landscapes.

“However, if we want to keep these important natural pest controllers, we need to maintain and even improve their remnant habitats.”

Phil Spark said that to maintain and enhance the native fauna diversity and abundance found on ‘Taraba’, a range of management actions could be put in place – including controlling weeds and feral animals, excluding grazing from riverine areas and vegetation, and allowing the remnants to mature and expand over time to increase the area of habitat and abundance of hollow trees and logs.

“We recognise the importance of our native vegetation in encouraging native animals to thrive, and we’re introducing a range of measures to help this,” Mark said.  

“We hope – for example – that our recent decision to stop grazing here on ‘Taraba’ will reduce the loss of habitats such as logs (via trampling), allow more regeneration and improve native groundcover and litter helping to suppress weed establishment.”

For more information on how you can maintain and enhance natural habitats on you farm, please visit the myBMP sustainable landscapes (natural assets) module. To follow Mark's journey as the Cotton RiverCare Champion, visit the Cotton RiverCare page.