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A unique ecosystem network


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Louise Williams, from Environs Kimberley, outlines an endangered environmental community – monsoonal vines thickets.    
Monsoonal vine thickets occur throughout the Kimberley, from the Dampier Peninsula to rock crevices on the Gibb River Road and into the northern parts of the region. The thickets on the Dampier Peninsula are the endangered ones. They only occur behind the first sand dune system, often within shallow aquifers and operate as a unique network ecosystem in which each patch of monsoonal vine thicket relies on other patches to coexist and the loss of one patch compromises the others.

Birds, such as the Channel bill cuckoo and the Rose crown fruit pigeon and flying foxes are important members of the ecosystem network. For example, by visiting the different fruiting thickets, the Channel bill cuckoos distribute fruit and seeds between the patches, thus maintaining their biological diversity. The wide variety of fruiting plants growing in the thickets have long served as significant sources of bush tucker for the Aborigines. Some patches are home to plants that do not grow in any other patches, making their conservation even more important.

The thickets are typically found within regions of Pindan woodland. These also need to be maintained as pathways between the patches. In contrast to the open woodlands, the monsoonal vine thickets appear as pockets of quite lush vegetation, that are well canopied, cool and well shaded. It is likely that these monsoonal vine thickets are remnants from ancient times when the region enjoyed a far wetter climate. As the continent has become drier the habitat that the thickets needed became more restricted – indeed the thickets typically are found in association with shallow aquifers.

The WA Department of Environment and Conservation has already run a pilot awareness raising program, the Community Weed Project, aimed at informing people about the damage to the environment from factors such as weeds, ferals, fire and camping, and monsoonal vine thickets were mentioned as part of that strategy. Plans are underway to develop a more holistic program that pools the resources of Environs Kimberley, Rangelands NRM and other groups up and down the coast. This approach will require working closely with indigenous rangers and other stakeholders.

Monsoonal vine thickets make a great sight on a great site.

Top: Dampier Peninsula monsoonal vine thicket
These thickets are rich sources of bush tucker. The series of images show Goolyi bush (top left), red Gubinge fruit (above right), joongoon (above left) and Birrimbirri (right). All images by Phil Docherty.

Left: Siratro infestation invading vine thicket.
Image by Tim Willing.

Text: V.B. October 2009 

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