Black Summer bushfire BioBlitz in NSW finds species bouncing back better than other regions

Harnessing the power of citizen scientists, a UNSW project researching biodiversity in areas damaged during the Black Summer bushfires has found positive signs of life bouncing back.

Three recent ‘BioBlitz’ events held in different locations around NSW have recorded the post-bushfire recovery of flora, fauna and fungi, and found the Mid North Coast is faring particularly well.

BioBlitz is a research tool dating to the mid-1990s, in which citizen scientists set out to document as many different species as they can across a defined time period and geographical location.

The latest BioBlitz through Laurieton, North Haven and Diamond Head, near Port Macquarie has seen 2,200 individual observations submitted to the research database, with 823 species recorded, including nine threatened species.

The Big Bushfire Bioblitz team joined by the ABC’s Costa Georgiadis (right) in Laurieton, NSW.(Supplied: Thomas Mesaglio)

Thomas Mesaglio, iNaturalist curator and PhD candidate at the UNSW Evolution & Ecology Research Centre, said the Laurieton BioBlitz saw “easily the most species observed out of the three BioBlitzes held”.

Close up of yellow spider with very long legs and body with glowing yellow, orange and black
A black-spotted Thwaitesia spider, also known as a sequined spider.(Supplied: Pete Crowcroft)

“The third blitz was initially meant to be held at Washpool National Park, north-west of Grafton, but right before it was meant to go ahead catastrophic flooding hit the area, so the team scrambled to reorganize the event,” he said.

The Laurieton area was chosen because it had a “really nice mosaic of burnt and unburnt areas right next to each other” and despite less people getting involved than the two previous events, a significantly higher number of species were found.

“We couldn’t have picked a better place,” Mr Mesaglio said.

“It was an absolutely fantastic location for the BioBlitz with the amazing range of species we saw.

Feather-tailed Glider
The feather-tailed glider is a threatened species.(Supplied: Nick Lambert)

Nine threatened species were found in the Mid North Coast area alone, including wallum rocket frogs and wallum froglets, greater gliders, square-tailed kites, and rare plants such as the Northern Brother wattle (Acacia courti) and flowering shrub (Persoonia katerae).

Large brown and white bird of prey mid-flight
A square-tailed kite native to Australia’s east coast.(Supplied: Thomas Mesaglio)

Previous events were held in March at Murramarang National Park on the NSW south coast and in February in the Blue Mountains, but as those areas suffered more intense and extensive damage, not as many species appeared to be bouncing back.

Each of the events ran over three days, with techniques employed such as spotlighting, insect trapping, sound recordings, and surveying of plants, mammals and reptiles.

A small brown snake with a bright blue eye lying on a rock
A yellow-faced whipsnake, common around most of Australia.(Supplied: Pete Crowcroft)

Citizen scientists crucial for bushfire research

Painted Fingers Orchid (Caladenia picta)
A painted fingers orchid endemic to NSW, which flowers in autumn.(Supplied: Thomas Mesaglio)

BioBlitzes are proving to be a highly useful tool for scientists to research the prevalence of different species across a large area.

Mr Mesaglio said citizen scientists had emerged as an invaluable asset for bushfire recovery research in terms of finding out which species were coming back.

“When you have fires hitting it’s really difficult for scientists to be able to go out and visit all the areas that burnt in a relatively short period of time,” he said.

“By mobilizing citizen scientists and getting the community engaged in these kinds of events we can cover lots of places in a shorter period of time.”

Close up of large black and white striped lizard
A lace monitor or tree goanna, one of the largest lizards in the world.(Supplied: Jack Morgan)

Bringing the citizen scientists together with experts and researchers also allowed them to impart knowledge to community participants.

Close up of a snail with a black and brown shell
A live Macleay Valley woodland snail, which is on the government’s provisional list of “priority invertebrate species requiring urgent management intervention”.(Supplied: Nick Lambert)

Mr Mesaglio said it was particularly fascinating to examine the impact recent heavy rainfall has had on wildlife.

“We found the influence of rain and water has been really crucial for recovering some of these areas, for example in the Diamond Head are you have fantastic paperbark swamps, and there was incredible diversity there,” he said.

“It seems like these swamps played a really important role during the fires, acting as little refuge for species that may have been trapped in the fires, for them to escape to.”

Brown moth-like butterfly, with black dots on the end of its wings, standing on the tip of a leaf
The common brown ringlet, a species of butterfly on Australia’s east coast.(Supplied: Pete Crowcroft)

Several Australian universities have combined efforts on researching bushfire behavior and its impact on the natural environment, and as a result the recent BioBlitz events have built on the shared knowledge.

“We’ve got all the people who came to the BioBlitzes uploading their photos and all of our experts feverishly identifying things for everyone and putting forward the final tallies, and then we’ll put together a report with all our findings.”

Thomas Mesaglio UNSW
PhD researcher Thomas Mesaglio says BioBlitzes allow scientists and the community to come together.(Supplied: Thomas Mesaglio)


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