Apart from mangroves, melaleuca-dominated woodlands make up a major component of the remaining forest cover in the coastal areas within the greater Cairns region. Clearing of this woodland community for urban development often results in the loss of habitat of the iconic ant plant (Myrmecodia beccarii) which is listed as a Vulnerable species under Queensland’s Nature Conservation Act 1992 (NC Act) and the Commonwealth’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act)
M. beccarii is an epiphyte that forms a unique association with the golden ant (Iridomyrmex cordatus), which lives in the chambers of the tuber, and the apollo jewel butterfly (Hypochrysops apollo apollo) which lays its eggs on the plant, and whose young also inhabit the interior chambers. The species occurs extensively through the Wet Tropics between Ingham and north of Cooktown and is often locally common.
A key regulatory instrument in the protection of the species is Queensland’s NC Act, where clearing of plants that are deemed ‘in the wild’ (i.e. in native forests) (refer to the Operational Policy for plants that are in the wild – https://www.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0029/99902/op-protected-plant-wild.pdf ), may require a protected plant clearing permit prior to clearing native vegetation. To obtain a permit, a flora survey will need to be conducted by a suitably qualified person which will identify if protected plants are present within or adjacent to, the area to be cleared. The results of the flora survey will determine if a clearing permit is required. Nevertheless, there are also some activities that are exempt from requiring a permit and it is important to clearly understand whether an exemption applies to your proposed clearing.
The first step in identifying if protected plants may be present in your property is to request a flora trigger map (go to: https://apps.des.qld.gov.au/map-request/flora-survey-trigger/), which will show you if your property is within a high-risk zone for protected plants, which indicates that threatened plants are likely to be present.
Once a survey has identified threatened plants are present, a strategy must be developed to manage the impact to the species. This impact management strategy is submitted along with the permit application to provide evidence that all impacts to the species, as a result of the development, have been considered.
To minimise impacts to the species whilst allowing for sustainable development in the region, one strategy that has been adopted to protect ant plant populations is to translocate all individuals that are proposed to be cleared. This strategy is approved by the State government with the purpose of ensuring preservation of the species.
Biotropica Australia has developed a successful translocation strategy which has been used to carry out a number of ant plant translocations within the region. In areas that are required to be cleared, ant plants within the clearing zone are carefully translocated by suitably qualified personnel, into new areas which are located far from any anticipated disturbance to ensure the population is able to survive. The translocated individuals are monitored regularly for two years to ensure any unforeseen impacts can be managed and that they successfully establish in their new habitat.
Biotropica Australia consultants are suitably qualified to undertake flora surveys, hold expert knowledge when dealing with clearing vegetation for new developments and can provide advice if you think you may have threatened species present on your property. Contact Biotropica to talk to one of our ecologists.