Australasian Plant Conservation (formerly Danthonia)
Originally published in Danthonia 9(1), June 2000
Plant Conservation in Cape York Forges Ahead
John Clarkson, Principal Botanist, Queensland
Parks and Wildlife Service, Mareeba
Those involved in nature conservation on Cape York Peninsula find themselves
in a very fortunate position. Over so much of Australia, conservationists are
forced to play 'catch up conservation'. Disturbances such as land clearing,
salination and weed invasion are often so pervasive that every vegetation remnant
is important and the challenge is to demonstrate their value before they too
are lost. This is not the case on Cape York Peninsula. Whilst there are certainly
examples of species in decline or in need of active management, the opportunity
to incorporate sound conservation management into planning at a regional and
property scale still exists.
Jedda multicaulis. Photo: John Clarkson
The situation is further improved by the recent announcement that
the Natural Heritage Trust will support a project, run by the Queensland Parks
and Wildlife Service, to secure the rare and threatened plants of Cape York
Peninsula. The project will run for at least 12 months, during which time a
botanist will systematically review the data on rare or threatened plants from
the Cape York Peninsula bioregion, and conduct an intensive field survey. Known
populations of rare or threatened plants and their potential habitats will be
visited to (1) obtain information on population structure, size and habitat
requirements and (2) identify possible threats to long term viability in the
wild. This information has been largely lacking to date. Then, in close co-operation
with land managers and indigenous traditional owners, management strategies
will be planned and implemented for key species. The Queensland Herbarium has
had botanists based in far north Queensland since 1979 and much of their survey
work was focused on Cape York Peninsula. The status of a number of rare plants
was reviewed in light of plant inventory and vegetation mapping data collected
during this time (Neldner 1993). Data sets gathered during this survey work
will be drawn upon heavily in the NHT funded project. The following examples
illustrate some of the work to be done, as well as the importance of understanding
the biology and habitat of species in order to establish their real threat status
and their management requirements. Coix gasteenii is a tall, robust, perennial
grass still known only from the type locality (see Ian Fox's article, this issue).
The project will conduct intensive searches for other populations. Jedda
multicaulis was first found in 1980 and described in 1986 (Clarkson 1986).
This multistemmed shrub belongs to the subtribe Linostomatinae of the family
Thymelaeaceae. Its discovery in tropical grassy woodlands on Cape York Peninsula
was intriguing. Three other genera, all rainforest climbers, make up the subtribe.
One is a South American genus restricted to the Amazon drainage system. The
other two are Asian. Jedda has unusual germination behaviour. Perhaps
as an adaptation to fire, the plant's plumule is carried several centimetres
beneath the soil surface by the fused petioles of the cotyledons. This was the
first report of this germination behaviour, known as cryptogeal, for the Australian
flora (Clarkson and Clifford 1987). Although locally abundant, until recently Jedda was known only from the type locality in an area totalling no more
than 5km2. A second population of unknown extent was located about 50km northwest
of the original locality in 1999. If land use remains unchanged, the plant should
be secure, but we will try to negotiate a conservation agreement over one or
both of the populations as part of property management planning.
The grass Eremochloa muricata was collected from a rocky headland just
south of Cape Flattery in 1976, but searches on similar headlands along the
east coast of Cape York Peninsula over the past 20 years have failed to find
it. This remains the only collection of this plant from Australia, although
the species also occurs in India and Sri Lanka. Recent taxonomic studies have
confirmed the identity of the Australian collection (J. Veldkamp pers. comm.).
Two other species of Eremochloa occur on Cape York Peninsula, including E. ciliaris which is also listed as rare. We plan further searches for
this and E. muricata.
In 1972 John Wrigley collected a new species of Macarthuria. The plant is still
undescribed and listed by Henderson (1997) as Macarthuria sp. (McIvor
River J.R.Clarkson 5447). It was not relocated until 1984, and in 1985 a single
plant was found in a dunefield north of Cooktown. A visit to the silica sand
mine at Cape Flattery revealed that the plant is a pioneer species which appears
in the dunes following heavy disturbance such as fire or, in this case, revegetation
following sand mining. Armed with this information the plant has been successfully
located in several dunefields as far north as the Jardine River and its long
term outlook is secure.
The NHT project should refocus conservation efforts onto those plants that
are genuinely rare or threatened. It is hoped the results will be used in bioregional
planning for threatened species and communities on Cape York Peninsula and for
planning at the property level.
Clarkson, J.R. 1986. Jedda, a new genus of Thymelaeaceae (subtribe Linostomatinae)
from Australia. Austrobaileya 2(3), 203-210.
Clarkson, J.R. and Clifford, H.T. 1987. Germination of Jedda multicaulis J.R. Clarkson (Thymelaeaceae). An example of Cryptogeal germination in the Australian
flora. Australian Journal of Botany 35, 715-720.
Henderson, R.J.F. (ed.) 1997. Queensland Plant Names and Distribution.
Department of Environment: Brisbane.
Neldner, V.J. 1993. The distribution and habitats of three presumed rare species
from Cape York Peninsula. Austrobaileya 3(1), 121-127.