Ricinocarpos brevis has an amazing view from its banded ironstone ridgetop habitat. Photo: C. Elliott.View image slideshow

Project title: Integrated conservation of the threatened banded ironstone species Ricinocarpos brevis (Euphorbiaceae)

Dates: 2013 - 2018

Funding: Cliffs Asia Pacific Iron Ore Pty Ltd

Location: Windarling Mine Site, 160 km north of Southern Cross, Western Australia

Research themes

  • propagation biology and translocation
  • seed dormancy and germination
  • population ecology and ecophysiology
  • pollination and seed dispersal

Project description

Ricinocarpos brevis was only discovered in 1981 near Windarling Peak and following this initial chance discovery and through additional extensive searches of the surrounding region only two more populations were found with a combined total of 18,000 plants. The largest population occurs in the Windarling Range which is currently mined for iron ore. As part of an integrated conservation project for this species a five-year research program was established in early 2013 to understand the ecology of this species with the overall aim to use this knowledge to replace plants that have been lost due to mining.

The main focus of this project is on understanding the seed biology and ecology of this species, as well as researching effective ways to propagate large numbers of plants through vegetative means (cuttings and tissue culture) to supply sufficient plants for in situ reintroduction programs in future. Initial investigations have focussed on understanding the soil environment where R. brevis is naturally found and to use this information to compare and contrast these natural sites to other locations to determine their suitability as potential translocation sites.

In addition, other parts of the research program have involved identifying the key insect pollinators and seed dispersers of R. brevis to determine their role is in the dispersal of pollen and seed in the population. This will provide a baseline to which reintroduced populations of R. brevis can be monitored and assessed, to determine if ecological processes, such as pollination, have been successfully established.

Outcomes so far have established that R. brevis:

  1. Seeds are dormant and show enhanced germination when exposed to smoke products.
  2. Seeds display a broad tolerance to incubation temperature.
  3. Exposure to light suppresses germination to some degree.
  4. Seeds are unusually sensitive to moisture stress - more so than would be reasonably expected for a species that naturally occurs in a semi arid environment.

The results from the seed biology investigations are now being used to develop and trial more insightful and effective ways of re-establishing R. brevis plants under restoration conditions.

Key staff

Dr Carole Elliott (BGPA/UWA), Dr Shane Turner (BGPA/UWA), Ms Arielle Fontaine (BGPA/UWA)

Collaborators

Dr Ben Miller (BGPA), Dr Jason Stevens (BGPA), Dr Adam Cross (BGPA/UWA), Dr Peter Golos (BGPA/UWA)

Publications

Elliott CP, Wilkinson K and Turner S (2018) Threatened plant translocation case study: Ricinocarpos brevis, Euphorbiaceae. Bulletin of the Australian Network for Plant Conservation 26(4):12-15.

Elliott CP, Turner S, Miller B (2018) Practitioner Restoration Manual: Ricinocarpos brevis (Euphorbiaceae). Botanic Gardens and Parks Authority for Cliffs Asia Pacific Iron Ore Pty Ltd.

Turner S, Elliott CP (2018) To the rescue – science and industry come together to save the critically endangered Banded Ironstone wedding bush (Ricinocarpos brevis). For People and Plants 102: 27-30.

Turner SR, Lewandrowski W, Elliott CP, Merino-Martín L, Miller B, Stevens J, Erickson T and Merritt D (2018) Seed ecology informs restoration approaches for threatened species in water-limited environments: A case study on the short-range Banded Ironstone endemic Ricinocarpos brevis (Euphorbiaceae). Australian Journal of Botany 65(8): 661-677.

Presentations

Elliott CP, Fontaine A, Lewandrowski W, Merritt D, Stevens J, Miller B and Turner S (2017) Application of restoration science to threatened species translocation: Insights from a banded ironstone endemic Ricinocarpos brevis (Euphorbiaceae). Threatened Species Research Forum, 7-8 September 2017, Geraldton.

Turner S, Elliott CP, Miller BP and Merritt D (2016) Seed ecology or rare plants. Seed traits symposium, 3 October 2016, Kings Park and Botanic Garden.

Turner S, Elliott CP, Fontaine A and Merritt MJ (2016) Seed ecology informs restoration approaches for threatened species in water-limited environments: A case study on the short-range Banded Ironstone endemic Ricinocarpos brevis (Euphorbiaceae). National Seed Science Forum, 14-18 March 2016, Sydney.

Miller B, Turner S and Elliott CP (2015) Science for managing, conserving and restoring threatened species. Threatened Species Research Forum: Durack Institute of Technology, 30 October 2015, Geraldton.

Ricinocarpos brevis flowers from April to July, depending on rain, producing small white flowers that are visited by ants. Photo: C. Elliott.Ricinocarpos brevis produces fruit that contain up to four seed, during August through to November. Photo: C. Elliott.In situ translocation trial investigating seed and seedling establishment. Photo: C. Elliott.Six month old Ricinocarpos brevis seedlings that germinated in the translocation trial. Photo: C. Elliott.Ricinocarpos brevis in its habitat. Photo: S. Turner.

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