Conservation priorities for Sunshine Coast heathlands, Queensland, Australia; distinctive heaths, refugia, and ancient mounds.
ID: 613 / 258
Proposed Symposium Title: Conservation priorities for Sunshine Coast heathlands, Queensland, Australia; distinctive heaths, refugia, and ancient mounds.
Hilary R. Pearl1, Marion Howard1, Tim Ryan2, Yoko Shimizu1,2, Alison Shapcott1
Affiliations: 1 School of Science, Technology and Engineering, University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia 2 Department of Environment and Science (Queensland Herbarium), Brisbane, Australia.
Conservation priorities and decisions can be informed by understanding diversity patterns and the evolutionary history of ecosystems, and phylogenetic metrics can contribute to this. This project used a range of diversity metrics in concert, to examine diversity patterns in the Sunshine Coast heathlands, Queensland, Australia, an ecosystem under intense pressure from urbanisation. The species richness and composition of 80 heathland sites over nine “Regional Ecosystems” of heathland on the Sunshine Coast were enhanced with phylogenetic metrics, determined by barcoding 366 regional heath species. The diversity metrics for sites and Regional Ecosystems were compared using univariate and multivariate statistics. Distinctive heathland communities were identified in the montane heaths, on Cainozoic and Mesozoic volcanic substrates, and these communities could be considered “refugial” over time. In contrast, within the much younger coastal lowlands, the existence of geographically scattered, but compositionally similar phylogenetically even sites in the wet heaths, points to a possible “refugial environment.” These areas are characterised by variable moisture, and the presence of natural areas of patterned mounds and trenches, which may be protective from extremes of drought, flooding, fire, and cyclones. Analysis of diversity metrics with abiotic factors identified moisture as a key abiotic factor, driving the distinctiveness of dry heath, but also the previously unidentified phylogenetic richness of moist and wet sites. Protection of the distinctive montane communities and refugial areas in the coastal lowlands is critical for long term survival of the heathland species. However, management of the dynamic processes in other wet and alluvial “refugial environments” including hydrological changes caused by climate change and urban development, is necessary in the conservation of the heathlands. Focusing on the distinctive heath sites, and refugial areas of heathlands, could maximise the long-term evolutionary survival of heathland species in this highly urbanised landscape.