A bountiful Bush Blitz

Bush_Blitz_3Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (TMAG) zoologists and botanists have returned from the wilderness having made a plethora of fascinating discoveries as part of their Bush Blitz survey in Tasmania’s Central Highlands.

The scientists teamed up with volunteers seconded from BHP Billiton to survey the plants and animals of the Tasmanian Land Conservancy’s Five Rivers property and the adjacent Gowan Brae property recently acquired by the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre.  

Also on hand were representatives from Earthwatch Australia, and collaborating scientists from the Tasmanian Seed Conservation Centre at the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens, the Australian National Herbarium, the Queensland Museum and the University of New South Wales – everyone working to produce as thorough a set of biological data as possible. 

TMAG Herbarium staff Dr Gintaras Kantvilas, Dr Miguel de Salas, Lyn Cave and Matt Baker were proud of their haul, returning from the survey with in excess of 500 plant specimens.

The botanists took advantage of the better than expected weather conditions and the helping hands of BHP Billiton staff to sample the botanical delights of some wonderful and seldom visited Tasmanian habitats. 

Alpine grasslands and sedgelands, riparian corridors of the Nive and Pine rivers, unique liverwort meadows and highland rainforest were all sampled during the survey. 

The samples collected are now safely back at the Herbarium, and staff and volunteers will be busy in the coming months checking the identifications of the specimens and their associated collection data.

Once identified and their data validated, the specimens will be carefully mounted and databased before they are filed into the main Herbarium collection. 

The botanists say that the valuable information associated with the specimens will fill many gaps in their knowledge of the species collected, and the information will also be used to underpin the management of the reserves and highlight the significance of the landscapes.

One of the key aims of Bush Blitz is the discovery of species new to science, and the Herbarium staff are buoyed by the initial inspection of the collections revealing that there is at least one undescribed lichen amongst them. 

TMAG’s zoologists also had a productive journey to the Central Highlands, with the warm, calm evenings allowing Dr Cathy Byrne to procure many hundreds of moths using two different types of light-trap during her nocturnal moth-hunting excursions. 

Dr Simon Grove also collected a couple of hundred beetles, which he is now is in the process of identifying back in the lab, and on the last day of fieldwork found three velvet-worms belonging to at least two species, almost certainly still undescribed. 
Land-snail expert and TMAG associate Dr Kevin Bonham also had a very successful Bush Blitz, notching up an impressive 23 native species of snail and slug through diligent searching through leaf-litter and moss, under stones, in rocky crevices and on tree-trunks.

While the expedition was excellent from the science perspective alone, the TMAG scientists say that perhaps their most enduring impression was the interaction with the volunteers and other stakeholders involved in Bush Blitz.  

The TMAG staff report that it was a real privilege to work alongside such a cheerful and enthusiastic group from all walks of life, and to be able to demystify science, promote the work of the museum and share their knowledge with people so eager to listen and to learn.

You can read more about the survey on the Parks Australia blog, and learn more about the Australia-wide project at the Bush Blitz website.

Bush Blitz is an innovative partnership between the Australian Government, BHP Billiton Sustainable Communities and Earthwatch Australia that is helping fill the gaps in our knowledge of biodiversity within Australia’s national system of conservation reserves.

Image details:
(above) Dr Gintaras Kantvilas and Dr Miguel de Salas discussing how to best collect a Herbarium specimen from an Ozothamnus daisy bush with BHP Billiton volunteers Brandon Pike and Laura Powell (image: Matt Baker)
(below) Dr Cathy Byrne during one of her nocturnal moth-hunting excursions, in which she used two different types of light-trap to procure many hundreds of moths (image: Dr Simon Grove)