YELLOW-BELLIED GLIDER HOME TO RECEIVE EXTRA HABITAT UPKEEP

7 APRIL 2022

Known for its distinctive shrieks, rattles and gurgles, the endangered Yellow-bellied glider (Wet Tropics) is getting a helping hand with some extra habitat upkeep.

Tall eucalypt forest in a narrow strip on the western edge of the World Heritage Area is home to the glider but the habitat is threatened by alteration and fragmentation. There are only three known remaining local tableland populations of the Wet Tropics sub-species of gliders left.

Terrain NRM’s Dr Andrew Dennis said the Gilbey Forest, on state forest and adjacent private land near Herberton on the Atherton Tablelands, is the habitat for one of the populations but weed infestations are putting the habitat at risk. Lantana camara, a transformer weed of national significance, is a particular concern in the area as it can drastically change ecosystem condition and function.

“Yellow-bellied gliders live in ‘dens’ in large rose gums in tall eucalypt forest and their survival depends on what remains of that habitat being in top notch condition. The right mix of species must be able to grow and recruit new den and feed trees, but lantana forms dense thickets that can stop young trees from growing and prevents critical forest regeneration,” he said.

Now, a one-off weed control program funded by the Queensland Government’s Natural Resources Investment Program and delivered by Terrain NRM, will control an area of significant lantana infestation.

The program builds on existing, longstanding work by the Yellow-Bellied Glider Project volunteers of the Tree Kangaroo and Mammal Group. The group has been looking after parts of the Gilbey Forest for decades and monitoring resident gliders. They have partnered with landholders, traditional owners, scientists, schools and other community groups to care for and manage the area.

Yellow-bellied gliders rely on two main habitat trees. They live in the hollow limbs of soaring rose gums where small family groups live in “dens”, and they tap the trunk of the red mahogany for its clear, sugary sap.

Dr John Winter, part of the team caring for the glider, has been involved with the fluffy gliders since the seventies.

“Back then nobody much bothered with the wet sclerophyll forests – they were actually completely overlooked for years and years. These days they are far more prominent in people’s minds as an important ecotonal habitat.”

Yellow-bellied glider (Wet Tropics)

Image (C) Andrew Dennis

Dr Winter said it takes 100-150 years for the right kind of hollow to form in rose gums so historical timber harvesting and land clearing has put the remaining wet forest habitat under pressure.

“The main risk for the rose gums is fire. The bark sheds in long strips and accumulates at the base of the tree. We get out and rake the tree bases on a regular basis, but we can only look after small areas.”

“In time, before these large rose gums can be naturally replaced, it’s likely that the gliders will need to use artificial nest boxes,” he said.

The group works closely with Queensland Parks and Wildlife and Jirrbal people to maintain access tracks and monitor dens and feed trees. They have also worked with landholders to replace kilometres of barbed wire with plain wire to reduce barbed wire injury as the mammals glide between trees.

The new weed control program will remove lantana from 20 hectares of private land and state forest with teams of people manually cutting plants, painting stems, and using targeted spraying to kill resprouting plants. This will enable a significant area of infestation to be brought under control so that landholders will be able to continue managing and maintaining the weed on their land.

Dr Dennis said habitat monitoring will also be undertaken.

“Conservation of the gliders requires monitoring as well as practical action and that means protecting habitat trees from fire, managing weeds, and advocating for appropriate protections of habitat,” he said.

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