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The First K’gari BioBlitz

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From 28 November to 4 December 2016, a multidisciplinary team of experienced scientists and enthusiastic amateurs based at the University of the Sunshine Coast’s (USC) Dilli Village Research and Education Centre carried out the first of what are hoped to be regular BioBlitzes to better document the wide range of both plant and animal species on Fraser Island (K’gari).

The BioBlitzes are a kind of ‘natural stocktake’ to develop an inventory of every living thing on K’gari.  They are extremely important on K’gari, because biological values are one of the three natural values for which the island has been inscribed on the World Heritage list.  Criteria (vii) recognises K’gari’s outstanding aesthetic values.  Criteria (viii) recognises the ongoing geological processes which are currently being studied over three years by a team from the University of Queensland.  Criteria (ix) recognises that the island ‘represents an outstanding example of significant ongoing biological processes. These processes, acting on a sand medium, include biological adaptation (such as unusual rainforest succession), and biological evolution (such as the development of rare and biogeographically significant species of plants and animals).   Vegetation associations and succession represented on Fraser Island display an unusual level of complexity, with major changes in floristic and structural composition occurring over very short distances.’  It is this criteria that the BioBlitz was addressing.

BioBlitzers at the end of a productive week recording K’gari’s living resources

Establishing baseline data about the biota of K’gari is an extremely challenging task.  It requires lots of human resources; more than the Queensland Government can provide.  That is why FIDO hit on the idea of engaging citizen science and using volunteers to assist the process.  FIDO collaborated with the University of the Sunshine Coast to embark on a Bioblitz to build on the Wildnet list of lifeforms reported for the Island.  A start was made by selecting the 50 km2 study area, reaching north and west of Dilli Village.  It encompassed samples of all K’Gari’s dune systems and most of its ecosystems. It is expected to take years to have a complete Wildnet species list, but significant progress was made with BioBlitz 1 (2016).

There were unanticipated hiccups with the first BioBlitz that limited where teams could go, the methodology and, in the end, the number of more expert scientists who could participate.  Notwithstanding this, more that 40 people descended on Dilli Village and had a wonderfully rich and enjoyable week of searching and identification in a reduced area to see what could be discovered.

It will take time to fully analyse the findings, but the process is well under way and further reports will follow.  All of the data has been added to the Fraser Island Repository at the University of the Sunshine Coast.

One Bioblitzer was a grass specialist.  She was able to visually identify 50 species of grass.  Although there were 120 species of grass (family Poacae) listed for K’gari, it is expected that in the final analysis the number of grass species previously known from K’gari will have been expanded.  The Fungi team is reported to have identified 74 species of fungi, which means they will probably add many new species to the Fraser Island Wildnet List.  Skeletal remains were also found of two special K’gari critters: a giant cockroach and a Cooloola Monster, confirming their presence in the study area.

This event, along with potential future Bioblitzes and the USC’s growing Fraser Island Repository, will help to add to our knowledge of this World Heritage site inscribed for its biological, aesthetic and geomorphological values.

The outstanding naturalist and photographer, Ian Morris, came down from Darwin and has produced a fabulous photographic presentation of his observations during the BioBlitz, demonstrating how much can be achieved from observations only.  His 18-minute photographic presentation can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6BCKFeqdioE.

The blending of such a diverse group of people with such a range of expertise and experience produced an outstanding learning environment.  People learned from, and about, the environment and their fellow citizen scientists.  Everyone was left wanting an encore as soon as it can be arranged.  Subject to funding and proper agreements, plans are already developing for another Bioblitz in late winter that will also be based at Dilli Village.

FIDO thanks the staff of Dilli Village and the caterers, but we are most indebted to the University of the Sunshine Coast for its generous strong logistical and moral support which ensured this first Bioblitz on Fraser Island (Kgari) was a pleasurable learning experience in citizen science.

Article contributed by John Sinclair, AO, FIDO

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