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Report of the Habitat Fragmentation Workshop held in Sydney, Australia

Volume 3 Number 1 - December 2003

Rossetto, M.

A workshop entitled Consequences of Habitat Fragmentation was hosted by the Centre for Plant Conservation at the Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust in Sydney, Australia on the 4-5 July 2003. The intention of the meeting was to create a discussion forum for scientists and students researching the genetic and ecological consequences of habitat fragmentation. The programme was divided into four main sessions, each included a series of presentations and a period of general discussion during which important research, management and conservation issues were raised.

The first session was titled Theory and Methodology and was set underway by a resentation on Drosophila-based models aimed at assessing the genetic consequences of population fragmentation (R. Frankham, Macquarie University). The best plant reproductive parameters to assay in fragmentation studies were then proposed by C. Gross (University of New England), stressing the value in relating such characters to habitat and population quality aspects. The importance of measuring connectivity between fragments was also emphasized, and a number of authors reviewed published work on ecosystem fragmentation and identified strengths and weakness of past studies. During the discussion the need for a balance between experimental models and empirical research was highlighted. It was stressed that it is essential to consider how much influence the environmental matrix can have on experimental and comparative studies.

The second session dealt with Historical Changes and focused on the long term effects of fragmentation. Similarities were identified among a variety of species and landscapes that have undergone ancient as well recent fragmentation events. The presentations dealt with a range of organisms including rainforest trees along the east coast of Australia (M. Rossetto, Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney), bush-rats on offshore islands (P. Baverstock, Southern Cross University) and shrubs from south Western Australia (M. Byrne, Department of Conservation and Land Management). The commonality among these examples was in the traceability of genetic signals identifying restricted gene flow during ancient fluctuations in environmental conditions. Discussion time emphasised the importance of integrating ecological, evolutionary and genetic data, particularly when aiming to identify priorities for conservation and management.

The third session was on Case Studies aimed at presenting and updating a number of recent studies. A. Young (CSIRO – Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) reviewed aspects of his research on the consequences of inbreeding within fragmented populations of a rare daisy. A series of presentations on diverse organisms ranging from eucalypts to wood-boring cockroaches followed. In the following discussion it was highlighted how the definition of ‘habitat fragmentation can vary according to the taxonomic unit being studied. This led to the conclusion that multi-species approaches are likely to be the most informative. In addition, the need of a greater number of long-term studies producing data accessible to the broader scientific community was debated.

The final session, Research and Applications, focused on how the information obtained from habitat fragmentation research can or should be used in ecosystem management.

The session got underway with P. Adam (University of New South Wales) reviewing policy and legislative responses to habitat fragmentation. This presentation was followed by a number of studies on fragmentation within urban contexts. The meeting was brought to a conclusion by O. Price and B. Rankmore (Department of Infrastructure Planning and Environment) introducing the unique case of the Northern Territory, where habitat fragmentation is at its early beginnings. As a result, discussion time was centred on one main question: if habitat fragmentation ‘must’ occur, what is the best approach for minimising environmental damage?

In addition to the seminars over 20 posters were presented. The workshop provided an invaluable opportunity for debating relevant topics and for developing new ideas and collaborative research. It was proposed that this meeting should become a recurrent event while maintaining its current format, which was considered particularly successful in stimulating debate. A book of abstracts is available via email from the author.

Maurizio Rossetto
Centre for Plant Conservation, Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust
Mrs Macquaries Rd, Sydney NSW 2000, Australia
Tel: +61 (0)2 9231 8337 Fax: +61 (0)2 9251 4403