West Perenjori Reserve

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Southwest Australia has been identified as one of the world's 25 biodiversity conservation hotspots (Myers et al. 2000 in Nature). To be classified as a hotspot according to Myers et al. (2000) the location must contain at least 0.5% native endemic plants in the world and have less than 30% original vegetation remaining. Southwest Australia contains 1.4% of the global endemic vegetation and only 10.8% of the original undisturbed vegetation remains with 100% of that original vegetation in protected areas (reserves, national parks, etc; Myers et al. 2000).

West Perenjori Reserve within a backdrop of agriculture fields. Other reserves are represented by dark polygons. Rabbit-proof fence No. 2 is seen as the sharp contrast between fields and the natural lands on the right of the image.

West Perenjori Reserve within a backdrop of agriculture fields. Other reserves are represented by dark polygons. Rabbit-proof fence No. 2 is seen as the sharp contrast between fields and the natural lands on the right of the image.

West Perenjori Reserve is a small (~3.5 sq km) reserve in the Western Australia Wheatbelt just on the eastern edge of this identified hotspot. This reserve contains a York gum-Jam woodland system of which only <10% of the original vegetation remains - most converted to agriculture. This reserve, though, contains a mixture of native endemic plant species and introduced exotic plant species. This composition of native and exotic species coexisting in the same system has been identified as a "novel ecosystem" (Hobbs et al. 2009 in Trends in Ecology and Evolution). Understanding how these novel ecosystems arise and persist is one project the Mayfield Lab at University of Queensland works on (including my research).

Wheat field adjacent to the West Perenjori Reserve

Wheat field adjacent to the West Perenjori Reserve

York gum-Jam woodlands in West Perenjori Reserve

York gum-Jam woodlands in West Perenjori Reserve

I spent nearly 4 months in this reserve and saw the diverse plant understory that gives this region its hotspot and novel system status. Within a 0.09 sq meter plot, I could have over 20 different plant species both native and exotic. But what I enjoyed the most were actually the swaths of the same species that came in waves throughout the season as each different species reached its max flowering time.

Cephalipterum drummondii  bloom in early August

Cephalipterum drummondii bloom in early August

Velleia rosea  bloom in early September.

Velleia rosea bloom in early September.

Another interesting feature of this location was the different systems within the same nature reserve. Taking a closer look at the Google Earth image of West Perenjori Reserve (below), there is a noticeable change in soil type in the reserve (notice the changing red to tan color). With this change in soil there is also a change in system type when driving south along the eastern edge of the reserve (right side of image) from the main road to the back of the reserve. The change in vegetation is striking transitioning from tall woodland to shorter mallee scrub and back to taller woodland.

Taller Ecalypt woodland to the north (right side of the image) transitioning to mallee scrubland (left side of image).

Taller Ecalypt woodland to the north (right side of the image) transitioning to mallee scrubland (left side of image).

Mallee woodland/scrub (notice the change color of the road).

Mallee woodland/scrub (notice the change color of the road).

Transition back to taller woodland.

Transition back to taller woodland.

Next year it will be interesting to observe any change in the density or composition of species in the reserve... maybe there will be some species that do not emerge or others that will become more prevalent. I will have to see come next July...

Mix of species in West Perenjori Reserve including  Velleia rosea  (white),  Podolepis canescens  (yellow), and  Brunonia australis  (blue)

Mix of species in West Perenjori Reserve including Velleia rosea (white), Podolepis canescens (yellow), and Brunonia australis (blue)