Biodiversity

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The ‘biodiversity theme’ of this Regional Catchment Strategy includes the terrestrial plant and animal species, and the habitats that support them. The biodiversity of East Gippsland is unique to our region and important for us all.

Our biodiversity values… a snapshot

East Gippsland is a biodiverse region bounded by the peaks of the Great Dividing Range to the north, where mountain peaks rise to 1870 metres and extending to the coastal and marine environments in the south. 

Our region supports significant biodiversity values. It is one of the few places in Victoria to retain the majority (around 80%) of pre-European extent of native vegetation cover.

These intact habitats support a high diversity of plants and animals, with records of over 5000 species. This includes at least 35 species of plant that are unique to the region.

Deadcock Den
Deadcock Den, Mitchell River National Park

East Gippsland is one of the few places in Victoria to retain a high degree of native vegetation, with over 80% of pre-European extent of native vegetation cover still intact. While there has been clearing of Plains Grassy Woodland and Forest in the lower floodplains, particularly in the west of the region, a high proportion of rainforest (97%) and dry forests (96%) have been retained.

Forest around Lake Tyers
Forest around Lake Tyers

There are at least 12 Commonwealth or State listed threatened ecological communities supported in East Gippsland, these include:

  • Alpine sphagnum bogs and associated fens – endangered (EPBC); FFG listed
  • Gippsland Red Gum Grassy Woodland and associated native grassland – critically endangered (EPBC)
  • Seasonal Herbaceous Wetlands of the Temperate Lowland – critically endangered (EPBC)
  • Littoral Rainforest and Coastal Vine Thicket – critically endangered (EPBC)
  • Subtropical and Temperate Coastal Saltmarsh – vulnerable (EPBC)
  • White Box-Yellow Box-Blakely’s Red Gum Grassy Woodland and derived Native Grassland – critically endangered (EPBC)
  • Forest Red Gum Grassy Woodland Community – FFG listed
  • Warm Temperate Rainforest – East Gippsland Alluvial Terraces – FFG listed
  • Warm Temperate Rainforest – Far East Gippsland – FFG listed
  • Warm Temperate Rainforest – Howe Range – FFG listed
  • Cool Temperate Rainforest – FFG listed
  • Mixed Forest – FFG listed

The Atlas of Living Australia has records of 140 EPBC listed threatened species from the East Gippsland region. This includes 60 species of plant, 30 species of bird, 18 species of mammal, 11 species of fish, eight species of reptile, seven species of frog and a number of invertebrates. 

Green and golden bell frog
Green and golden bell frog
(Credit: Rodney Smart, Museums Victoria courtesy of Love Our Lakes)

In addition, 1100 species that are considered rare or threatened in Victoria have also been recorded within the region. This list includes 11 species that are known to only occur in East Gippsland including several plants and three species of galaxiid native fish. 

East Gippsland supports greater than 50% of the Victorian range of 14 species listed as endangered or vulnerable nationally and a further 31 species listed as threatened in Victoria (Table 1).

Table 1: Threatened species for which East Gippsland represents > 50% of the Victorian range

EPBC - Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, 1999
FFG - Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act, 1988
E - Endangered, V - Vulnerable, ce - critically endangered, e - endangered, v - vulnerable
(Source Nature Print)

PlantsEPBCFFGAnimalsEPBCFFG
Bantam bush-pea vGiant burrowing frog V
Betka bottlebrushVGreen and golden bell frog V
Black stem vKeferstein’s tree frog v
Blackfellow’s hemp vLarge brown tree frog V
Buff hazelwood eMartin’s toadlet ce
Cabbage fan-palm vBlack bittern
Colquhoun grevillea VEastern bristlebird E
Cotoneaster pomaderris EGlossy black-cockatoov
Dainty bitter-cress eMasked owle
Deddick blue-box eDargo galaxias e
Fine bent-grass vEast Gippsland galaxiase
Forrester’s bottlebrush VMcdowells galaxiasce
Genoa river correaEClayton’s spiny crayfishe
Genoa spider-orchid VEast Gippsland spiny crayfish e
Gippsland banksiaeMallacoota burrowing crayfish v
Green wattleeOrbost spiny crayfishe
Heath spider-orchid vBrush-tailed rock-wallabyV
Kosciuszko grevillea eLong-footed potoroo E
Kydra dampiera eLong-nosed potoroo V
Lemon-scented zieria VDiamond python v
Long-leaf bitter-pea v
Maiden’s wattlev
Marsh leek-orchid e
Mountain cryptandra v
Mt Stewart wax-flower v
Narrow-leaf bent-grass V
Olive mallee v
Orange-blossom orchid e
Purple eyebright v
Rock mallee v
Snowy river westringia V
Stringybark tea-tree v
Suggan Buggan wax-flower v
Tasmanian wax-flower v
Thyme pink-bells v
Upright pomaderris v
Viscid daisy-bush v
Willow needlewood e
Wooly-bear wattleVv

The high proportion of public land and retention of much of the native vegetation and habitats of the region, means that much of the biodiversity of East Gippsland is exposed to lower levels of threat from changed land use than elsewhere in Victoria. 

In the lowlands and regions cleared for agricultural production, habitats can become fragmentated, whilst pressures from recreational impacts from tourism and recreational pursuits can affect species and habitats, particularly in popular seaside destinations. 

Over much of the rest of the East Gippsland region threats to biodiversity arise from:

Climate change

Increased hot and dry conditions will mean an increase in the frequency and severity of bushfires. If fires occur more frequently than habitats and animal populations can recover, then long term impacts to population viability can be expected. Alpine areas are highly vulnerable to climate change impacts with reduced snowfall and an increase in the altitude of snow fall. Plants that require periods of chilling to complete lifecycles may not survive.

Many of the impacts to flora and fauna are difficult to predict exactly, although it is expected that gradual changes may see changes in the composition of vegetation communities as more resilient species cope in a warmer and drier climate. There may be an increase in pest plants and animals that are more adaptable to changing conditions. Fauna species may experience changes in behaviour, abundance and distribution as well as potential shifts in regular cycles such as migration or breeding.

Stringybark forest after the bushfires
Stringybark forest after the bushfires

Pest plants and animal

Despite much of East Gippsland retaining native vegetation cover, there are still areas of priority weeds and a number of significant pest animal threats to biodiversity. 

  • Horses remain a significant threat in alpine areas. Damage to vegetation communities (including threatened communities and species) is a common impact through overgrazing and trampling, which leads to erosion and water quality impacts to fragile ecosystems such as wetlands and peatlands, particularly where horse numbers are high. 
  • Deer are a significant threat across all landscapes in the region causing damage to vegetation communities, threatened plant species and resulting in loss and degradation of habitat for native animals. 
  • Pigs also represent a significant threat, particularly in the Upper Snowy, Cobberas and Monero Tablelands; where impacts are greatest in alpine peatlands due to upturning of soils and subsequent weed invasion. 
  • Introduced predators such as foxes and cats remain a threat to wildlife including birds, frogs, reptiles and native mammals.

Area of permanent protection

The East Gippsland region contains over 1.8 million hectares under permanent protection (Table 2). This represents over 60% of the total area within the region. National Park comprises approximately 90% of the protected area, covering more than 1.6 million hectares.

Table 2: Area of permanent protection in East Gippsland.
Source: Collaborative Australian Protected Area Database (CAPAD)

Protection typeNumber of protected areasProportion of total protected area (%)Total area (ha)Additional area (ha) since 2017
National Park10901,638,6770
State Park1< 1%86950
Conservation covenant and other private landsunknown< 1%250
Other2139.70%177,362

Native vegetation cover

Extent of native vegetation across the East Gippsland region is very high, with almost 1.8 million hectares of tree cover, 35,000 hectares of native grassland and 10,000 hectares of native shrubs. Up until 2019 there had been little change in tree cover, although the 2019-20 bushfires will have impacted this significantly, which is not accounted for in the available landcover data (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Change in extent of native tree cover (hectares) in the East Gippsland Region.
Source: Victorian Land Cover Time Series (DELWP)

Native Tree Cover - East Gippsland
click figure to view full size

There had been a steady increase in native grassland up to 2010, but a subsequent decline to 1985 benchmark levels. There has also been a slight decline in native shrub and natural low cover vegetation in the past two decades (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Change in extent of native vegetation cover (hectares) in the East Gippsland Region.
Source: Victorian Land Cover Time Series (DELWP)

Native Vegetation Cover - East Gippsland
click figure to view full size

Theme - Biodiversity

Biodiversity – working with land managers across the region to address established and emerging pest plants and animals

Current State
(2021)

Pest plant and animals threaten Alpine Peatlands and terrestrial habitats in the region, including white box woodlands. Pest animals such as horses, deer, and pigs transfer weeds, this has been identified as a significant threat to alpine ecosystems. Following landscape scale bushfires, this is a key priority moving forward.

Medium-term
Outcomes (2027)

Impacts are reduced on threatened vegetation communities and individual animals through ongoing integrated large herbivore control (deer, horses, pigs).

Threatened animals protected through ongoing integrated predator (fox and cat) control in priority refuge habitats.

Long-term
Outcomes (2027)

Populations of threatened species and ecological communities are maintained.

Maintenance and targeted improvement of the condition, security, diversity and integrity of natural ecosystems and the status of threatened species and communities.

Theme - Biodiversity

Biodiversity – working with land managers across the region to address pest plants and animals

Current State
(2021)

Pest plant and animals threaten unique vegetation communities.

Pest animals such as deer and pig transfer weeds and impact on native vegetation.

Following landscape scale bushfires, these are key priorities moving forward.

Medium-term
Outcomes (2027)

Impacts are reduced on unique vegetation communities, through weed control and native animals are protected through ongoing integrated large herbivore control and habitat improvement.

Long-term
Outcomes (2027)

Unique vegetation communities are maintained. 

Maintenance and targeted improvement of the condition, security, diversity and integrity of natural ecosystems and the status of threatened species.

Fire regimes are suitably managed.

Theme - Biodiversity

Biodiversity – improving aquatic habitats and ecosystems

Current State
(2021)

The freshwater, estuarine and coastal lagoon habitats of the Gippsland Lakes support a diversity of flora and fauna. This includes several threatened species including species of nationally threatened waterbird, EPBC listed growling grass frog and the Victorian listed Burrunan dolphin. While the status of threatened waterbird and frog populations remain a knowledge gap, there is some evidence that there have been recent impacts to Burrunan dolphin populations.

Pest plants and animals together with increased recreation have been identified as key threats to the fauna of the Gippsland Lakes.

Medium-term
Outcomes (2027)

By 2027 sustained predator control has been implemented in 60% of known priority waterbird foraging and breeding sites. 

By 2027 control of large herbivores in 30% priority wetlands where impacts have been observed and measured.

By 2027 no new sustained marine pest infestations in the Gippsland Lakes have occurred.

By 2027 the drivers of Burrunan dolphin population dynamics will be well understood.

Long-term
Outcomes (2027)

Diversity and abundance of waterbirds are maintained at priority locations around the Lakes.

Diversity of fish is maintained in Lakes Victoria and King.

Populations of Burrunan dolphins are stable.

Theme - Biodiversity

Biodiversity – work with land managers across the region to address established and emerging invasive species

Current State
(2021)

Invasive plant and animal management in the Protect the Best area is currently focused on the high profile of high value areas (e.g. the Southern Ark project area and heritage and other priority rivers). It is effective in those areas where there is consistent effort, but the approaches could be better coordinated across the region.

Medium-term
Outcomes (2027)

Integrated large herbivore control (deer, horses, pigs) is implemented in priority locations to protect and maintain important biodiversity values.

Predator (fox and cat) control is completed priority refuge habitats.

Control of transforming weeds in priority vegetation types and high value waterways, supported by the Far East Eden Strategy and priorities identified in the Biodiversity Response Planning process.

Long-term
Outcomes (2027)

By 2040 populations of threatened species and ecological communities are maintained. 

Theme - Biodiversity

Biodiversity – recovery from and resilience to bushfires

Current State
(2021)

The 2019/20 bushfires impacted a large proportion of the Protect the Best local area. The full extent of the impact of past fires is not yet understood and recovery trajectories remain unknown. Climate change reductions are for increased severity and frequency of fires and resilient landscapes are crucial to the survival of the unique biodiversity of this local area.

Medium-term
Outcomes (2027)

By 2027, priority unburnt habitat is protected and maintained.

Regeneration in littoral rainforest and coastal vine thicket communities has progressed.

Monitoring and reconnaissance of priority species and habitats is complete.

Long-term
Outcomes (2027)

By 2040 the recovery trajectory of East Gippsland forests is well understood and being observed across the local area.

By 2040 the will be no loss of threatened species from the local area.

Theme - Biodiversity

Biodiversity – protecting remnant native vegetation

Current State
(2021)

High quality remnants, particularly of Gippsland Red Gum Grassy Woodlands, are at risk due to threats from invasive weeds, rabbits, livestock grazing, and altered fire and hydrological regimes. There are also many patches of other medium quality remnants with low levels of protection and connectivity. 

Medium-term
Outcomes (2027)

Maintain, and where possible improve, the condition of Gippsland Plains Grassy woodland, increase extent by 30%.

Increase the area of native vegetation under permanent protection.

There will be no reduction in known threatened plant species populations.

Bird numbers and species diversity will remain stable at 2020 levels.

Long-term
Outcomes (2027)

The Gippsland Red Gum Plains will have improved ecological function. All significant areas of remnant native vegetation will have basic protections in place and will be better connected to each other across the landscape via strategic plantings.