Bilby preservation a key priority for Kimberley energy company

May 28, 2018

Kimberley conservation: Stuart Dawson's bilby research will guide future oil and gas development in Canning Basin

A Murdoch University research project on vulnerable bilbies in the Kimberley has won a prestigious oil and gas industry award for environmental excellence.

Buru Energy won the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association 2018 Environment Project Award for its support of Murdoch University PhD student Stuart Dawson’s investigation into the impact of fire and track clearing on bilby populations in the Canning Basin.

The Canning Basin is one of the few regions in Australia where the greater bilby can still be found.

Dawson surveyed Buru Energy’s tenements in the Canning Basin over three years, identifying seven bilby populations in the region.

“Prior to European settlement, the bilby was found across 70 per cent of mainland Australia, but is now restricted to less than 20 per cent of that former range,” Dawson said.

“Bilbies are now only found in the more arid regions of Australia such as parts of the Tanami, Great Sandy, and Gibson Deserts, with small populations in southwest Queensland and north of Alice Springs.

“In these remaining areas bilbies have been under relentless pressure from predation, and habitat changes from fire and agricultural use.”

Using camera traps and diet analysis, Dawson built a comprehensive picture on the habitat, diet and behaviour of bilbies and their predators.

Dawson worked closely with local native title holders during his fieldwork including the Yawuru and Nyikina Mangala groups, learning from their traditional knowledge and cultural insights of the area.

The resulting data was used to unravel the effect of two potential ecological disturbances faced by bilbies in the area – fire and track clearing for seismic surveys.

“These disturbances affect vegetation density and composition and may therefore influence diet and shelter for the bilby. They also influence accessibility by feral cats and dingoes, which may alter the predation risk for the bilby,” Dawson said.

Dawson demonstrated that seismic lines, which are long straight stretches of cleared land created by oil and gas companies for underground exploration underground, were used regularly by animals in the region. Bilbies were noted, but also feral cats, dingoes and cattle.

Bilbies showed a preference for cleared paths which have fewer obstructions to their movements.

Dawson also investigated the diet of bilby populations, finding the animals selected their food opportunistically and consumed species particularly exposed by disturbance such as the cossid moth larvae.

"Bilby populations are nomadic and their vacated burrows are key to the survival of many other animals. We believe bilby presence is key to the healthy functioning of ecosystems in the West Kimberley region,” Dawson said.

Buru Energy has incorporated the results of the study into their bilby management plan to avoid impacts.

Buru has already implemented avoidance zones and vehicle speed restrictions, and has largely prohibited night-time driving to avoid impacts on this nocturnal species.

The results of the project will also be used to plan future activities so they avoid areas that are important to bilbies in the West Kimberley region.

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Media contact: Pepita Smyth
Tel: (08) 9360 1289  |  Mobile: 0417 171 551  |  Email: p.smyth@murdoch.edu.au
Categories: General, Research, Schools, School of Veterinary and Life Sciences, School of Veterinary and Life Sciences Research
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Comments (One response)

Annette Padovan May 29, 2018

excellent work Stuart Dawson & great to see Buru Energy making an effort

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