Research

BEETLING ABOUT

We have some beautiful beetles here, and some that annoy me by eating trees that I would like to have survive, but I’d never paid much attention to the little black beetles that crawl around on the ground.

Then in March we had a visit from Kip Will from UC Berkeley who was interested in carabid ground beetles.  (Not rabid, as I thought when he first said it.)  To check out what we have, we set up pit traps (plastic beer cups buried in the dirt) at various locations in the Box Gum woodland, helped by Fabian and Martta.

In the evening we also set up Kip’s bright light on a sheet to attract flying beetles and other insects, but few were about because of the rain. beetle scanning at night

It’s extraordinary what variation you find among things that at first glance look to be all of them black and tiny.

The black and yellow one was a bombardier beetle (pherosophus), which can eject a spray of explosive chemicals at its enemies or prey.  Charles Darwin had a bad experience with an English bombardier:

 I must tell you what happened to me on the banks of the Cam in my early entomological days; under a piece of bark I found two carabi (I forget which) & caught one in each hand, when lo & behold I saw a sacred Panagæus crux major; I could not bear to give up either of my Carabi, & to lose Panagæus was out of the question, so that in despair I gently seized one of the carabi between my teeth, when to my unspeakable disgust & pain the little inconsiderate beast squirted his acid down my throat & I lost both Carabi & Panagæus![7]

We didn’t try to bite any of the beetles.

Craig and Kip identifying beetles.jpg

From the beer cups and bed sheet traps, Kip identified:

  • Clivinini – 3 spp (narrow body, some pale) sandy soil, riparian, predatory
  • Sarticus (1 large species) eat grass or seeds (an old Gondwanan species)
  • Prosopgmus sp (grass habitat, maybe seed eating?)
  • Harpalini (larger, pale legs) Grass seed eaters
  • Loxandrus ?gagatinus riparian, muck lovers
  • Harpalini  (very large, black legs) grass-seed
  • Pherosophus sp – predator (larval on water beetles) “bombardier”
  • Harpalini (small, pale legs) eats seeds and grass
  • Chlaenius – predator, scavenger
  • Pseudoceneus sp – maybe predator
  • Mecylothorax punctipennis ?

Most of these were grassland specialists.  In the future we’ll be able to see if there have been any increases in the numbers of woodland or forest beetles, as the canopy of the trees we’ve planted in the Box Gum area grows.  Kip also suggested that some research on what prompts the transitions to different instars (these beetles can go through 3-7 different phases) could be a good idea.

What an amazing world has been there under the grass and twigs all this time.

WOMBAT NEWS

IMG_4337Our lovely neighbour Cathy Campbell has a new project.  It’s called “Managing Mange in the Mullion” (that’s the title of the Facebook group also) and involves counting wombats, working out how many of them are affected by sarcoptic mange and treating them using “burrow flaps” that deliver a dose of medicine automatically at the entry to their underground lairs. Continue reading

A BIG DAY OUT FOR SMALL BIRDS

diamond firetail finch photo by Chris Tzaros

diamond firetail finch photo by Chris Tzaros

This year the grand finale of our tree linkage project was not even on our own land.  To complete the 3.9 kilometres (2.4 miles) of small plots that will allow birds like diamond firetails (stagonopleura guttata) and speckled warblers (chthonicola sagittata) to move around the landscape, we planted a larger area at the edge of the Dog Trap Road.  A paddock that actually belongs to our neighbour Suzanne.

Continue reading

WHICH? WHAT? HOW MANY? THE PLANT LIST

Nick and Nick's Patch aka K2C Exclosure 4

Nick and Nick’s Patch aka K2C Exclosure 4

Last autumn we planted up five mini enclosures to provide protection for small native birds and to re-establish a corridor from the Mullion Creek down to the Murrumbidgee River.  It turned out to be a great way to get a lot of connection done without a massive amount of time spent planting.

At the time I was glad to see a lot of native speargrasses and scattered clumps of native bluebells (wahlenbergias) among the introduced grasses and weeds.

WHAT WE PLANTED

Acacia dealbata Silver Wattle (1)
Acacia genistifolia Early Wattle (3)
Acacia implexa Hickory Wattle (3)
Acacia rubida Red-stemmed Wattle (5)
Acacia sp. a wattle (1) probably Sydney Green
Bursaria spinosa Sweet Bursaria (3)
Callistemon sieberi River Bottlebrush (5)
Eucalyptus macrorhyncha Red Stringybark (1)
Eucalyptus melliodora Yellow Box (4)
Eucalyptus polyanthemos Red Box (3)

The numbers in brackets show how many of the enclosures include that species.

I’m really happy to have this list as I sometimes lose track of what I planted, and it’s a long hike uphill to check.  In the heat of the moment I also sometimes make some odd choices.  Putting river bottlebrushes on the top of a ridge, for example.tree seedlings2Rainer and Lesley K2C

After we were done planting, Rainer Rehwinkel and Lesley Peden from the Kosciuszko to Coast Foundation came out and paced back and forward in each little area recording all the plants they saw.  It was early in the season, so many of them were very tiny.

I looked up and made links on the names for many of the plants that interested me or I didn’t know well.  I chose sites that had good information if I could, including the Atlas of Living Australia.  There wasn’t one site that covered everything well. Some were fascinating, such as EattheWeeds.com Continue reading

THE STORY OF THE THREE LITTLE TREES AND THE CIT STUDENTS

 

IMG_1407Once upon a time, a scientist was interested in the physiology and adaptability of Australian snowgums.

The official name of snowgums is eucalyptus pauciflora because they have only a few flowers (not because their flowers are crummy).   In the mountains they’re known for their twisted shapes and striped trunks.   They’re the highest tree that grows in the Australian Snowy Mountains.

snow gum1

In 1972 Professor Ralph Slatyer, later Australia’s first Chief Scientist, experimented with planting them even higher up than they would normally live, and successfully grew them at 2100 metres above sea level (that’s 6890 feet in the old imperial measures).   In the process he discovered all sorts of things about how plants get water and nutrients under difficult conditions.

Forty years later, Professor Justin Borevitz led a team of researchers back to those same snowgums to collect seeds.  You can see what they saw in his  nifty EveryTrail report.

From those seeds they grew a number of seedlings of which they gave us three to plant at Esdale.   Each tree came with a number and a record of their distant parent. Continue reading