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Australasian Plant Conservation

Originally published in Australasian Plant Conservation 15(3), December 2006 - February 2007

From the Editor: introducing Grasslands and Grassy Ecosystems

Tom May
Co-ordinator, Editorial Team, Australasian Plant Conservation, Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne

The focus of this issue of Australasian Plant Conservation is grasslands and grassy ecosystems. Across Australia these are severely reduced and fragmented. The ANPC has been active in promoting grassland conservation, such as through the recent 'From the ground up' workshop on conservation and rehabilitation of grassy ecosystems in the ACT region (see report by Sally Stephens). Generous sponsorship for the production of this issue of APC was received from the Department of the Environment and Heritage. Many grassy vegetation types are listed under state and federal conservation and biodiversity legislation.

Paul Gibson Roy and John Delpratt provide an overview of the temperate grasslands of the Victorian Basalt Plains. These grasslands have suffered the typical post-European decline in extent and quality. The authors describe current efforts in conservation and restoration such as use of direct seeding in reintroduction of species-rich grassland on bare-field sites. An initiative that aids grassland conservation on private land is the Victorian Volcanic Plains Tender scheme (VPP). Anne Buchan explains the tender process, which includes evaluation of the conservation status of sites.

Fire is recognised as an important management tool for grasslands. Suzanne Prober and co-authors discuss a long-term scientific study of the effects of differing fire frequencies on understoreys in grassy woodlands in central New South Wales. Different sites responded differently to fire, depending on the species composition of the grassy sward. This means that a uniform recommendation cannot be made for fire frequency. Rather, knowledge of the composition of the grassy sward, along with an understanding of recent disturbance history, must inform the burning regime.

Grasslands are scarce in South Australia. Bryan Haywood and co-authors describe grassland occurrences and management at two sites in the lower south-east of South Australia. In the Northern Plains of Victoria, native grasslands are highly fragmented. Darren Bain and Deanna Marshall introduce the Victorian Northern Plains Conservation Management Network, which links land managers, promoting sharing of knowledge and co-ordination of works. In the Southern Tablelands of New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory only 3% of grasslands remains. Greg Baines reports on the activities of the National Recovery Team for Natural Temperate Grasslands of the Southern Tablelands, which include assessment of current distribution, and provision of management guides to landowners.

Because grasslands are often highly endangered, so too are many species that are found in them. The Monaro Golden Daisy (Rutidosis leiolepis) is a threatened species that occurs at the Old Cooma Common Grassland Reserve. David Eddy and Geoff Robertson outline a project to conserve the habitat of the daisy, including potential use of conservation grazing as a tool to manage biomass and weeds. In South Australia, Spiny Daisy (Acanthocladium dockeri) is a critically endangered shrub of remnant grassland in the mid-north. Manfred Jusaitis discusses the response of the plant to fire. It is capable of rapid regeneration after fire, and burning also has potential to control snails that graze on the plants.

Rare plants often have small populations. Melinda Pickup considers management of small populations in terms of their genetic viability. A case study is presented for Rutidosis leptorrhynchoides, a grassland daisy with self-incompatible reproduction. She raises the possibility that keeping populations as genetically distinct entities may not always be the best strategy, and that (with careful planning) there may be benefits of translocation of genetic material ('genetic rescue').

Restoration of grasslands requires seeds. Effective direct seeding needs viable seeds. Seed viability testing of nine grassland species from the Victorian Western Plains is investigated by Marjorie Hall and co-authors. Different techniques of testing are recommended for different species, due to variation such as in the hardness of the seed coat. Milkmaids (Burchardia umbellata) is a widely distributed tuberous lily of temperate Australian grasslands. Because it takes several years to grow plants of suitable size for outplanting, it is seldom available as tube stock. Jenny Bear and John Delpratt show that storage of tubers in moist vermiculite is successful, compared to dry storage. This raises the possibility of direct planting of small, dormant tubers.

Grasslands all across Australia need friends. Kim Pullen and Geoff Robertson provide an account of the past and current activities of Friends of Grasslands, a group active in conserving grasslands in south-eastern Australia. The concluding article is by Geoff Robertson, who argues that the unpaid work of volunteers is an indication of a healthy society. He suggests that volunteer codes of practice assist in valuing the work of volunteers and directing it to best effect.

The Australian Network for Plant Conservation is typical of non-profit organisations in being heavily reliant on voluntary input, and this is certainly true for the production of Australasian Plant Conservation. I'd like to highlight the contribution of the volunteer editors and proof readers for 2006, including: Claire Brown, Tom Celebrezze, Tricia Hogbin, Leonie Monks, Deanna Marshall, Sally Stephens, Helena Mills, Rosemary Purdie and Bob Makinson.