Martin Copley AM, 1940-2014 | Leading the fight against feral cats | Mt Gibson: creating the largest feral predator-free area in WA | Biological surveys and moreRead more...
Mt Gibson covers a vast 132,500 hectares approximately 350 kilometres from Perth, straddling a botanically rich transition zone between the wetter southwestern province and the more arid inland (Eremean) province.
The location of Mt Gibson – straddling the “mulga-eucalypt line” – is particularly important. The property supports magnificent eucalypt woodlands of Salmon, Gimlet and York gum as well as a host of other rare and declining vegetation communities and up to 50 threatened plant species.
A varied landscape – featuring Lake Moore, rugged greenstone ranges, granite ridges and vast sandplains – provides refuge for a high number of mammal, bird and reptile species includingthe endangered Malleefowl and Western Spiny-tailed Skink and cryptic mammals such as Woolley’s Pseudantechinus.
Mt Gibson is the site of one of Australia’s most ambitious mammal reintroduction projects. AWC is establishing a 7,800 hectares feral-free area – the largest cat and fox-free area on mainland WA – into which at least 10 regionally extinct mammals will be reintroduced. This single property will therefore play a critical role in providing a secure future for around 14% of Australia’s nationally threatened mammals. Read more about the Mt Gibson Endangered Wildlife Restoration Project.
Mt Gibson supports a high diversity of wildlife including many birds that have declined significantly in the WA wheatbelt such as Malleefowl and Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo, as well as Peregrine Falcon and Australian Bustard. The small mammal fauna includes four species of Dunnarts, two species of Hopping-mice and the Southern Ningaui. The reptile community features the iconic Perentie and Thorny Devil, as well as lesser-known species such as the endangered Western Spiny-tailed Skink.
Even the invertebrate communities are impressive: on one early biological survey, over 100 species of native bees were collected by the South Australian Museum and, of these, 50 species were new to science.
However, as with much of inland Australia, the region in which Mt Gibson is located has lost a high proportion of its original mammal fauna. Around half of the mammals that were originally found in the wheatbelt and adjacent arid zone have disappeared as a result of feral predators, loss of habitat and the effect of feral herbivores.
Mt Gibson is set to play a critical role in reversing this tide of extinctions. AWC is establishing a 7,800 hectare feral-free area (protected by a feral-proof fence) in which wild, self-sustaining populations of at least 10 mammal species will be re-established. The mammals to be reintroduced include the Bilby, the Numbat, the Banded Hare-wallaby, the Woylie and the Western Barred Bandicoot.
AWC is the only conservation organisation to measure in a robust scientific manner the ecological health of a network of sanctuaries. At Mt Gibson, we undertake more than 5,000 live trap nights each year – plus 30 vegetation surveys, 90 bird surveys and at least 500 camera trap nights annually - to measure a suite of ecological health indicators including the abundance and diversity of key faunal groups (such as woodland birds) and the extent of threatening processes (eg, the density of feral predators).
Our performance against these indicators provides rigorous scientific data which enables us to track the ecological health of Mt Gibson.
Mt Gibson is set to play a critical role in the conservation of the threatened mammals of southwestern Australia. Our field programs are directed toward:
In addition, with the establishment of the Neville Tichbon Field Research Station, Mt Gibson will also become a hub for science activity addressing key biodiversity issues related to the restoration of mammal populations, the conservation of the extraordinary flora of southwestern Australia and related issues such as fire management and feral animal control.
Mt Gibson lies on a transitional vegetation zone called the ‘mulga-eucalypt line’ straddling two major botanical provinces: the arid Eremean botanical province to the north-east and the moister South-west botanical province.
The topography and underlying geology of the property are complex. The dominant landforms are greenstone ranges in the northeast and banded ironstone hills in the northwest. Granites and gneisses of the Yilgarn Block underlie much of the property and outcrop as domes or breakaways at a number of localities. The ranges are separated by gently sloping pediments and flood plains associated with salt lakes and clay pans, with extensive sandplains in the south. Lake Moore is an ephemeral saline lake that extends along the entire eastern boundary of the property.
The property’s rainfall is extremely variable: in some years it has a pattern of winter rainfall like the driest parts of the wheatbelt, and in others it is more similar to northern areas which occasionally have very large summer downpours. However, summers are always hot. Mt Gibson was run as a sheep station before AWC acquired it, but it was never heavily stocked and the integrity of the soil and vegetation suffered very little damage.
Mt Gibson contains some of the last great wheatbelt stands of magnificent eucalypt woodlands including Gimlet, Salmon Gum and York Gum (covering around 60,000 hectares or half of the property). There are at least 40 eucalypt species on the property. Our analysis at the time of acquisition revealed that 9 of the 13 broad vegetation communities on Mt Gibson were either not represented in any national park or had less than 1% of their original distribution protected.
So far, 567 plant species have been confirmed for the sanctuary, but the number increases with nearly every survey, and it is likely that there are 700-800 present. Of the confirmed species, 37 are listed as threatened.
The sanctuary is a hotspot for acacias – 60 species have been confirmed so far, several of which are listed as threatened. In partnership with the WA Department of Parks and Wildlife, we have established new populations of two of the rarest acacias, Gibson Wattle (Acacia imitans) and Ninghan Wattle (Acacia unguicula), by nurturing several hundred of them in a herbivore-free exclosure on the sanctuary.
Every few years, when large downpours have occurred at the right time, Mt Gibson puts on vivid and scenic floral displays, consisting of:
The land management team at Mt Gibson is led by Joe Stephens, our resident Mt Gibson Sanctuary Manager. During the establishment of the feral-free area, he is assisted by a team of feral animal control officers.
A Wildlife Ecologist, Laura Ruykys, is also based on site at Mt Gibson. Scientific support is provided by our south-west ecologists and interns.
In addition to permanent staff, there are a number of students and long-term volunteers who assist in delivering the science and land management program at Mt Gibson.
One of the objectives of the Mt Gibson Endangered Wildlife Restoration Project is to promote public awareness of the plight of Australia’s wildlife and habitats. To this end, AWC will be establishing a campground at Mt Gibson and hosting nocturnal walks in the feral-free area after the reintroduced mammal species are established.