In northern Australia, there is growing recognition of the importance of wetlands to biodiversity and ecosystem health, along with their cultural value to Indigenous communities. Feral pigs and cattle pose significant threats to wetland system ecology and biodiversity through negative impacts on wetland vegetation assemblages, biological communities and water quality.
In this project, we quantified the impact of feral species on wetland condition, the effectiveness of control measures on mitigating the threats to aquatic systems, and the subsequent impact on cultural wetland values. To do this, we defined, evaluated and calibrated metrics used to describe the impacts.
To capture the complexity of metrics that describe both biophysical and cultural impacts of feral pig management, a collaborative team of ecologists, human geographers, Traditional Owners and land managers developed an integrated monitoring and reporting framework to monitor and report on wetland biophysical values with cultural ecosystem services research. The framework, which strongly emphasises embedding cultural values and supporting Indigenous-led management and planning, enables the comparison of investment in control, with consequent impacts on environmental values.
The project had five general components:
Project outputs can be used by land managers to identify priority wetlands for targeted management while providing a means to evaluate the impact of current feral species management. The monitoring methodologies are replicable and allow land managers to review change over time. The establishment of new wetland typologies supersedes old typologies that didn’t support the modelling of feral pig data and omitted cultural values. Cost–benefit analysis of select control methods for feral pigs enables the comparison of investment against impacts, supporting better future decision making for land managers.
This research took place in the Archer River basin in north Queensland but the adaptive management framework proposed here can be used across northern Australia.
This project has delivered research outcomes that have led to direct changes to the way feral pigs and cattle are being managed across millions of hectares on Cape York Peninsula. Research partners have increased the baseline knowledge of feral pig impacts and management through the production of technical mapping products, software, monitoring tools and peer-reviewed journal articles.
The team has communicated these impacts through a variety of media and has delivered presentations and advice to a broad cross-section of stakeholders including government policy departments, land management organisations and conservation entities. Project outcomes are also supporting national initiatives for feral animal control.
This project identified that in the absence of purposeful, impact-driven management and monitoring, it was impossible to assess positive or negative change from landscape-scale feral pig control and limited benefits accrued for Traditional Owners and funders. However, when control was targeted and associated with clear metrics of success (e.g protection of marine turtles), management interventions were successful and sustained.
We recommend that control programs are targeted to enhance and protect defined values. For this to be effective, control needs to be paired with monitoring and assessment that tracks values with defined critical thresholds that reflect positive or negative change to values.
We developed wetlands monitoring and assessment tools which enable land managers to analyse and interpret baseline metrics of system health and identify priority wetlands for targeted management. The use of digital assessment and decision-support tools can provide vital information to land managers to enable them to undertake effective and robust control programs. The interactive dashboard provides a system that can be extended and modified by end-users to input and visualise data. This allows land managers to test the value of the data they are collecting for assessing impact on different values.
This research found that effective feral pig management requires the following elements:
Through involvement of all key management groups, this project has fostered a shared understanding of the most effective and efficient ways to manage feral animals to deliver joint social, environmental and cultural benefits. This project has developed real-world solutions that can be practically implemented by land managers to support continued management of feral species.
The interactive dashboard aggregates the project data into an accessible interface.
Feral animals such as pigs negatively impact terrestrial invertebrates, freshwater turtles, marine turtles and freshwater fishes. They directly prey on turtles and their nests, and modify habitats to impact the ecological function of waterholes. New methods for monitoring the changes in impacts at different scales can use readily available technology (mobile devices, off-the-shelf drones and cameras attached to helicopters). Several of these methods can be applied systematically by land managers working in similar ecological systems to support robust monitoring and reporting. The figure below describes a way to bring together various elements into an operational monitoring program.
Infographic showing suggested use of the methods discussed in the report. We suggest an adaptive management approach where baseline information is derived and then sites are monitored annually to report changes. Step 1: Desktop waterhole typology and management units mapping. Use waterhole typology mapping framework to map all waterholes in the management area. Select practical management units based on assessment of access, values, vegetation and impacts. Step 2: Waterhole typology mapping. Fly helicopter with GPS-enabled camera across the management areas to quantify and categorise waterhole types and impacts. Step 3: Select monitoring sites. Choose sites that reflect impacts, values and waterhole types. Select three (ideally five) sites in each type to account for variance within types. Step 4: Survey the selected sites. Using a drone, collect detailed aerial photos of each waterhole – fly at 50 m altitude, use photogrammetry software to stitch images into a geo-rectified image. Step 5: Feral animal management operations. Undertake various management operations and collect detailed monitoring data (e.g. location, date, time, costs, effort and human resources). Step 6: Reporting and adaptation. Use HealthyCountryAI framework to create spatio-temporal reports visualised using interactive digital dashboards. Following management events, observe the trend in the values that are being monitored and alter management actions. Return to step 2 and start the adaptive cycle again.
Waltham NJ, Schaffer J, Walker S, Perry J and Nordberg E (2022) ‘Simple fence modification increases land movement prospects for freshwater turtles on floodplains’, Wildlife Biology, e01012, https://doi.org/10.1002/wlb3.01012.
There are an estimated 24 million #FeralPigs in Australia, and despite best efforts, their populations continue to increase & leave #wetland destruction in their wake. This video discusses specific wetland impacts and how on-ground efforts from organisations like Kalan Enterprises are addressing the problem.
Queensland Environment had identified pig damage as a major wetland issue, but until this NESP Northern Hub project, impacts of pig damage on specific wetland types had not been quantified. To better understand pig preferences for different wetland types, this project also contributed to a wetland typology to distinguish one wetland type from another.
This project then quantified the impact of feral species on wetland condition, the effectiveness of control measures on mitigating the threats to aquatic systems, and the subsequent impact on cultural wetland values.
Hub research in the Gulf of Carpentaria aims to support sustainable development in the region. This includes research to inform water allocation planners and floodplain managers about the potential impacts of changes in flow on fisheries, migratory birds and biodiversity. Rivers that flow into the southern Gulf of Carpentaria are home to high-value ecosystems and support important recreational and commercial fisheries. With increasing development in the region, more information is needed to understand how future water development will impact on the health and productivity of floodplains and coastal areas.
Waltham, N. J., & Schaffer, J. (2021). Will fencing floodplain and riverine wetlands from feral pig damage conserve fish community values? Ecology and Evolution, 00, 1– 13. https://doi.org/10.1002/ece3.8054
The Northern Australia Environmental Resources Hub addressed key research questions to come up with practical, on-ground solutions to some of the north’s most complex environmental challenges. A transdisciplinary research approach has been at the heart of the hub. Integrating key research users – policy-makers and land managers including Traditional Owners and ranger groups – into the co-design of research projects has led to rapid uptake of research outcomes into land management practices and decision-making. The hub has produced this wrap-up video outlining these impacts from the perspectives of research users.
Indigenous people face many challenges in managing their lands, including rapidly growing threats causing species extinctions and ecosystem losses. In response, many Indigenous groups are looking for ethical ways to design and apply innovative technologies to solve complex environmental management problems—specifically, technology that can work with Indigenous people’s stewardship practices and knowledge.
Department of Environment and Science 2020. The Queensland Waterhole Classification Scheme. Brisbane: Queensland Wetlands Program, Queensland Government.
CSIRO scientists and Cape York Indigenous rangers have turned to technology to boost the survival rates of turtle hatchlings in Australia’s remote far north. Australian Government funding from the National Environmental Science Program (NESP) is supporting the r
A world-first AI-infused cloud-based system that can quickly analyse thousands of aerial photographs of remote beaches in northern Australia to identify evidence of both turtle nests and their predators has been developed by CSIRO, Aak Puul Ngantam (APN) Cape York Indigenous rangers and Microsoft as part of a National Environmental Science Program (NESP) partnership.
Marshall, J.C., Blessing, J.J., Clifford, S.E., Negus, P.M., & Steward, A.L. (2020). Epigeic invertebrates of pig‐damaged, exposed wetland sediments are rooted: An ecological response to feral pigs (Sus scrofa). Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems. 2020; 1– 14. https://doi.org/10.1002/aqc.3468
Nordberg, E.J., Macdonald, S., Zimny, G., Hoskins, A., Zimny, A., Somaweera, R., Ferguson, J. & Perry, J. (2019). An evaluation of nest predator impacts and the efficacy of plastic meshing on marine turtle nests on the western Cape York Peninsula, Australia. Biological Conservation, Volume 238, 2019, 108201, ISSN 0006-3207, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2019.108201.
Negus, P.M., Marshall, J.C., Clifford, S.E., Blessing, J.J. & Steward, A.L. (2019). No sitting on the fence: protecting wetlands from feral pig damage by exclusion fences requires effective fence management. Wetlands Ecology & Management https://doi.org/10.1007/s11273-019-09670-7
Waltham, N., & Schaffer, J. (2018). Thermal and asphyxia exposure risk to freshwater fish in feral‐pig‐damaged tropical wetlands. Journal of Fish Biology, 93(4), 723-728.
Kalan Enterprises, Aak Puul Ngantam (APN Cape York) and Balkanu were essential project collaborators on this project. They conducted extensive feral animal management activities in the region over two years as part of their funding through the Balkanu Feral Pig Management project, Nest To Ocean, Working On Country and Queensland Land and Sea Management funding.
This project was completed in June 2021.
Justin Perry, CSIRO
A partnership between CSIRO, Aak Puul Ngantam Cape York and Microsoft has given Indigenous rangers a helping hand in analysing tens of thousands of images of Cape York coastline. This work combines Indigenous knowledge and artificial intelligence to protect baby sea turtles.
Collaborative research between CSIRO, Microsoft and Aak Puul Ngantam (APN) Cape York is working with an AI-infused cloud-based system that can quickly analyse 1000s of aerial photographs to give rangers the information needed to protect turtle nests from feral predators.