Across the Top End, conservation reserves have been the most effective way to manage land to conserve native animals, according to a study conducted over 20 years.
Researchers studied the abundance and diversity of more than 400 species of birds, mammals, reptiles and frogs from 1988 to 2008, to gauge the effect of different types of land use on biodiversity.
Dr John Woinarski, from the Northern Australia hub of the National Environmental Research Program, said that 967 sites were sampled across the Northern Territory, including outlying islands.
“We used a variety of systematic trapping techniques, timed searches and spotlight searches at night to measure the abundance and diversity of animals within each site,” Dr Woinarski said.
“Our results showed a small but significant ‘biodiversity benefit’ from conservation reserves compared to other types of land use, particularly for threatened species.
“Sadly, we have seen wide-scale declines of mammals across northern Australia even in conservation reserves, so it’s probably more accurate to say that biodiversity loss in reserves has been less than on Indigenous or pastoral lands.
This is not to say that the Indigenous and pastoral lands of northern Australia cannot make a substantial contribution to halting the decline of biodiversity.
“In areas like southern Australia, where the landscape has been more severely transformed, conserving biodiversity is far more dependent on a network of conservation reserves,” Dr Woinarski said.
“However in northern Australia’s savannas, which are relatively untouched, other land can play a major role by buffering and complementing the reserve network.
“Given the relatively small proportion of land currently devoted to conservation across northern Australia, we need to consider strategies that maximize biodiversity benefits across different land uses.
“There are increasing resources available for a blend of Indigenous land management skills and conventional park management, and this type of management has flow-on benefits.”
The study was undertaken with support from the Northern Territory Government, Australian Research Council, the Wilderness Society and the Australian National University, and the results are now available in the open access journal Land.