Protecting Wilderness and National Parks

For Xmas - Native Fauna of the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area

by Judy Smith, Peter Smith and Kate Smith
published by P&J Smith Ecological Consultants
softcover $40.00, including postage when purchased through the Colong Shop

172 pages, soft cover, two locality maps, over 200 colour photos and 20 illustrations.

Available from the Colong Foundation online shop, the authors (email smitheco@ozemail.com.au) or from Blue Mountains bookshops and visitor centres, Abbey’s Bookshop in Sydney, and the National Botanic Gardens bookshop in Canberra.

Overview by Judy Smith

In 2000, the Greater Blue Mountains was listed as a World Heritage Area in recognition of its outstanding natural values. In the 20 years since, the area’s rich flora, particularly the 98 different eucalypts, diverse vegetation communities and many threatened species, have received considerable attention. The fauna’s biodiversity contribution has been less appreciated. In our new book, Native Fauna of the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area, we seek to make amends.

Peter and I are ecologists who have lived and worked in the Blue Mountains for almost 40 years, studying and enjoying the local fauna. Kate grew up in the Blue Mountains and assesses the fauna closely through a critical artistic eye. The fauna has never been static but, lately, changes have both jolted and motivated us to document it – we should know what we are fighting for and risk losing.

In 2015, we received an Australian Government Community Heritage and Icons grant to help us prepare checklists of the native terrestrial vertebrate fauna (mammals, birds, reptiles and frogs) of the World Heritage Area. Four years on, our reviews of wildlife databases, published and unpublished reports, explorers’ journals, our own and other naturalists’ records, have identified a total of 432 species (68 mammals, 254 birds, 74 reptiles and 36 frogs) that have been reliably recorded within the World Heritage Area since European settlement. This outstanding faunal diversity reflects the diversity of habitats in the World Heritage Area abutting each other. It is also a consequence of the location of the World Heritage Area, where fortuitously, species from surrounding moist coastal areas to the east, dry western slopes, cool southern tablelands and warm northern sub-tropics, converge. Additional wide-ranging species and a few local specialists, notably the Blue Mountains Swamp Skink Eulamprus leuraensis, contribute to a fauna of international significance.

In Native Fauna of the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area we describe the World Heritage Area’s environment and habitats. Accounts of the mammals, birds, reptiles and frogs follow. The status, local distribution and ecology of each of the 432 fauna species are detailed. A checklist indicates in which of the eight constituent reserves of the World Heritage Area (Blue Mountains, Gardens of Stone, Kanangra-Boyd, Nattai, Thirlmere Lakes, Wollemi and Yengo National Parks, and Jenolan Karst Conservation Reserve) each species has been recorded and the dates of the last records. Currently, 73 of these species (28 mammals, 34 birds, 4 reptiles and 7 frogs) are considered threatened at state or national level and 12 bird species are protected under international migratory bird agreements.  An extraordinarily high number of the fauna species are at or near the edge of their range in the World Heritage Area, and hence are likely to contribute substantially to genetic variability within species: one fifth (20 species) of the mammals, a tenth (29 species, not including vagrant species) of the birds, half (37 species) of the reptiles and almost three-quarters (25 species) of the frogs. A few, such as the Southern Water Skink Eulamprus tympanum and Fletcher’s Frog Lechriodus fletcheri, occur as isolated populations well away from other populations beyond the World Heritage Area.

Where possible, we document species population trends. For 25 species, we found no recent (post-1999) records in the area. Nine of these are mammals not recorded for many years and these appear to be locally extinct. It is not always appreciated that even in uncleared tableland forests in the World Heritage Area, mammal fauna has suffered many losses. Trends across the World Heritage Area, a vast area one-third the size of Belgium, are not uniform. Too many species, while still fielding recent records, have suffered range contractions or population declines. Recent local decliners include threatened species such as the Greater Glider Petauroides volans, Gang-gang Cockatoo Callocephalon fimbriatum and Flame Robin Petroica phoenicea, and species not yet recognised as threatened, such as the Dusky Antechinus Antechinus swainsonii, Rose Robin Petroica rosea and Pink-tongued Lizard Cyclodomorphus gerrardii.  Recent increasers include the Powerful Owl Ninox strenua, Sooty Owl Tyto tenebricosa and Bar-shouldered Dove Geopelia humeralis. The collated records reveal various patterns, for example, the six local frog species most closely associated with rainforest and wet sclerophyll forest are all now rare in the area. From such patterns arise many questions.

In bringing together Native Fauna of the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area, many local naturalists, both amateur and professional, have generously shared their observations. Field surveys undertaken over the years by the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, on-ground managers of the World Heritage Area, have also provided invaluable information. It would be a huge pity not to adequately fund and support the NPWS to continue to undertake field-based fauna and flora surveys in the World Heritage Area.

Some animals are known in the Greater Blue Mountains only from the writings of early explorers and travellers or from sub-fossil skeletal remains. Three different species of bettongs once occurred in and around the World Heritage Area and were favourites with the local children. It seems deeply sad that all three are now gone. Even among the species that remain, there is still much to be learnt. We do not know which species of Mountain Brushtail Possum occurs in the area (at least one species, maybe two), if the Brush-tailed Phascogale Phascogale tapoatafa persists, or even which subspecies of the Common Ringtail Possum Pseudocheirus peregrinus lives there.

As the 20th anniversary of the World Heritage Area listing approaches next year, it is timely that we take stock of both our fauna and flora and celebrate their diversity, scientific value and conservation importance.