@ Ian Sharp (Posted July 7, 2016 at 12:29 pm): …

Comment on Buffel inaction makes mockery of parks hype by Alex Nelson.

@ Ian Sharp (Posted July 7, 2016 at 12:29 pm): There has been research on the genetics of buffel grass, Ian, conducted on sites across northern Australia over a decade ago.
The study revealed that the genetics of buffel grass in areas where it’s been long established cannot be traced back with any certainty to the original strains that were sown in the first place – in short, buffel grasses are evolving into local strains that adapt the species best for the localised environmental conditions wherever it grows.
Unlike nearly every other introduced problem species, buffel grass has a varied genetic base from all the different strains that have been systematically trialled and sown across Australia, giving it an enormous advantage to evolve and adapt to Australian conditions. There’s no hope whatsoever of distinguishing buffel grasses grown on pastoral leases from those advancing into areas of high conservation value.
Buffel grass is just one of a suite of exotic plant species that were introduced for improved pasture and/or soil conservation. In the Top End this included Mission Grass, Para Grass and Gamba Grass, all now declared noxious weeds despite their usefulness for grazing.
In the Centre and other inland regions across Australia for many years Athel Pine was officially recommended and planted for erosion control, wind breaks and shade, but today is classified as one of the worst noxious weed species in the country.
The history of Athels in Central Australia parallels that of buffel grass but our responses to the environmental threats they pose have diverged markedly – and frankly Athels have far less ability to invade across the landscape than does buffel grass.

Alex Nelson Also Commented

Buffel inaction makes mockery of parks hype
@ Peter (Posted June 29, 2016 at 12:30 pm): Oh, don’t tempt me, Peter, wouldn’t I just like to trial the release of these insects.
Given the reluctance of relevant government bodies to confront this issue, it’s probably a matter of time when someone will take matters into their own hands.


Buffel inaction makes mockery of parks hype
@ Peter (Posted June 28, 2016 at 11:24 am): Thanks for your comment but it’s not the case that birds can’t eat buffel grass seed. I’ve observed four species (galahs, cockatiels, budgerigars and zebra finches) that eat this seed, and have photographs of most doing this; however, they only do so in specific situations (along roadsides or where grass has been mown or slashed) and consume only a tiny fraction of the amount of seed produced.
Zebra finches were probably the first birds locally to be observed eating buffel grass seed, they used to raid seed stocks held in storage by the Soil Conservation Unit several decades ago when this grass was being systematically established around the Alice Springs Airport.
I’ve also observed and photographed termites and seed-harvesting ants collecting buffel grass seed but again in quantities usually insufficient to adversely affect the spread of this grass.
One exception appears to be during extended dry periods or droughts when termites apparently temporarily deplete buffel grass seeds in the soil bank but this is rapidly restored when surviving grass clumps respond to good rainfall.
There are also two species of sap-sucking insects which I’ve observed and photographed on healthy green buffel grass foliage. One of these is a type of white-fly, although its infestations on the undersides of buffel foliage give it the appearance of a scale infestation. T
hese insects are farmed by ants which feed on the honeydew that they exude. I first noticed the white-fly at the AZRI Horticulture Block in the early 1980s.
Once again, these insects appear to cause no significant impact on the health and vigour of buffel grass but they are potentially vectors of viral diseases.
Finally, there is a native species of caterpillar in southeast Queensland that has so readily adapted to the consumption of buffel grass seed-heads that it is considered a commercial pest.
It’s actually known as Buffel Seed-head Caterpillar and has been problematic in Queensland since at least the 1980s. I have a Queensland Agriculture Department Agnote paper from that time which provides advice on how to manage this insect species infestation of buffel grass pastures.
Indeed, when the infestation is too heavy, the recommendation is simply to plough all the grass into the ground and start again! It’s clear from this that there are already a few potential natural control agents for the spread of buffel grass.


Buffel inaction makes mockery of parks hype
@ The Buff Club (Posted June 27, 2016 at 2:29 pm): There’s a couple of points to make in response to your comment. First, my father worked as an assistant to botanist George Chippendale in the late 1950s and in the early 1960s (right up to the time of Chippendale’s departure in mid 1966 where, for a period of time afterwards, my father was in charge of the NT Herbarium).
This period coincided with the major drought of the 1960s, during which Chippendale and my father conducted plant species surveys and collections across the NT.
My father has often told me about his observations of the enormous dust storms that afflicted Alice Springs during this period, noting that they were prevalent in the pastoral area surrounding the town.
Whenever he travelled further afield in desert sandplain or dune country (unproductive lands for primary industry) there were no dust storms; rather he could observe the dust rising on the horizon originating from the cattle country.
The second point is that my father and I were participants in a CSIRO research project in the early 1980s studying the grazing preferences of cattle at varying stocking rates.
This work was mainly done at AZRI in the vicinity of where the suburb of Kilgariff is now being established. The data I helped to collect revealed that cattle preferentially graze palatable native grass species ahead of buffel grass.
In circumstances where grazing pressure is high and/or constant, buffel grass gains an extra competitive advantage over native species.
Buffel grass is a species adapted for grazing by large animals, native grasses generally are not.
I’m not opposed to the beef cattle industry, I think it has a legitimate place in our local economy.
However, it’s clear that the management of the environment to meet the demands made of it by seemingly conflicting industry and community sectors requires a sophisticated and flexible approach to ensure we mitigate the damage we continue to inflict upon it.


Recent Comments by Alex Nelson

Councillor passes buck to staff
The suggestion for wards is nothing new. It was suggested in 1987-88 when the rural area was incorporated within the Alice Springs Municipality but was firmly rejected by the NT Government and the town council.
The idea was raised and debated again during the mid 1990s but again was firmly knocked on the head.
Ironically, the town was divided into wards during the period of the Alice Springs Progress Association, which existed from 1947 to 1960.
The ASPA was a lobby group organised by civil-minded residents of the town to raise issues of concern with the NT Administration.
It was the precursor of local government in the Alice, and was replaced by the Alice Springs Town Management Board that in turn preceded the Alice Springs Town Council.
The town’s population was much smaller, growing from about 2000 in the late 1940s to over 3000 by 1960; despite this small population, the town was divided into three wards plus the Farm Area along what is now Ragonesi Road.


Heat rises on cooling plan
The rate of tree decline and deaths is rising significantly, including along streets, and in parks and home gardens. It has become very noticeable in recent weeks; kurrajongs in particular have become susceptible but so also are a number of eucalypt and other non-local native species.
The prolonged dry conditions of the last two years and severe high temperatures of this summer have now reached a point where many trees and shrubs are unable to survive without care and intervention. This situation is likely to accelerate during the course of this year.


The Florence Nightingale from the bush
Rona Glynn’s achievements occurred in a time most often condemned as the “bad old days” of Commonwealth control in the NT.
She remains an outstanding example of what other people like her achieved in those times, and I’m hard-pressed to believe there has been much improvement for Indigenous people in our supposedly more enlightened and educated era of self-determination from the 1970s onwards – in particular, the collapse of education standards and achievements since I was a boy.
I’m one of those 2000 babies born at the Alice Springs Hospital when Rona Glynn was the Charge Sister of the Maternity Ward, during an emergency situation that threatened the survival of my mother and myself.
Dr John Hawkins, another remarkable personality who was then a fairly new surgeon at the hospital, saved both our lives.
I’m mindful that not so long afterwards, Rona Glynn’s life could not be saved in similar circumstances.
Her untimely passing was a great loss to Alice Springs but, perhaps more significantly, as a shining example of achievement for Aboriginal people contending with an ever-changing world.


96 trees chopped down to ‘duplicate’ highway
One cannot help but be suspicious that there are government policies (at all levels) of “wreck and rebuild” as a means of generating economic activity as a means for propping up the business sector when the economy is tanking.


Visitor from afar to Alex’s backyard
@ John Crellin (Posted February 24, 2019 at 1:27 pm): A most intriguing sighting, John. According to my (very old) “Complete book of Australian birds” juvenile pheasant coucals do have dark plumage; and breeding birds also display darker feathers. I’m not sure if the bird I photographed is in breeding condition.
Their breeding season extends from October to March so the recent sightings of these birds in the Old Eastside corresponds to that period.
If your observation is correct, it indicates there are at least two of these birds – possibly more – in town but they are secretive so can only guess at their numbers.
As Charlie Carter indicates, it begs the question how they got here. Pheasant coucals are weak flyers so it doesn’t seem likely they would make it to Central Australia of their own accord; but maybe we underestimate their abilities.


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