EARTH FIRST |  Mount Canobolas continues to be a place that attracts scientists from all parts to explore

The beauty and intrigue that continues to draw scientists to our backyard underpins our understanding of life on Earth.  Photo: Rosemary Stapleton.

While science underpins our understanding of life on Earth, our understanding must continue to evolve as new knowledge is acquired.  Even our own small place on the planet has something to offer as scientists continue to explore the iconic landscapes of Mount Canobolas.

Recently scientists from Canberra and Sydney surveyed Cryptogams in the Mt Canobolas State Conservation Area, searching, photographing and sampling to enhance knowledge of these microscopic organisms.  Tiny plants, including mosses, liverworts, hornworts and lichens, are frequently overlooked in the broader landscape.  They never-the-less play a critical pioneering role in tough habitats that eventually allow a succession of other plants.

Mount Canobolas, being an isolated, largely natural landscape amid highly developed agricultural lands, has provided a refuge for over 1,000 species of plants and animals that would once have been widespread throughout the area. Since the 2018 fires, significant additional numbers of threatened, endemic and other species have been identified.

Featured frequently in media reports in recent times, threatened species are also currently protected in the SCA. NPWS recently contracted for an arboreal mammal survey to be conducted, targeting the Greater Gilder. While koalas and quolls no longer call the Mountain home, a small population of Greater Gilders still survive in the SCA.  It is hoped that future surveys will follow over time to add to these base-line data.

In the context of threatened species, it’s easy to lose sight of endemic species, ones with a very limited geographic distribution that occur naturally nowhere else.  Endemic species face similar threats as those species already formally gazetted as either threatened, vulnerable or endangered.  The Mt Canobolas endemics are now isolated and confined just to the remnant mountain landscape. They can be considered rare and vulnerable since their existence is naturally limited.  Disruption to and fragmentation of such habitat remains is one of the key threats to all the species still surviving in this treasured natural sub-alpine landscape. It is a landscape that has never really been fully studied as a whole and is currently still yielding knowledge that will add to our understanding and value of the natural world including communities of mosses, liverworts, hornworts and lichens, 

Science still has the potential to improve, prolong and save life on earth and it is heartening to see this happening on our own doorsteps, whether it’s involvement of current experts, long-retired scientists or a growing interest in “citizen science”.

By Jenny Medd

Edited version of post appeared as an article in the Earth First column of the Central Western Daily on 6th June 2020