Conserving Australia's most endangered snake might mean lighting more bush fires, ecologists have proposed.
The last remaining populations of broad-headed snakes are being threatened by encroaching woodland that is destroying their habitat, a study by scientists from the University of Sydney and Stanford University (USA) has shown.
"Broad-headed snakes are only found living in small pockets within 200 km of Sydney, and those small communities are fast becoming extinct or increasingly more rare," said Professor Rick Shine from the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Sydney, co-author on the new paper published online in British Ecological Society's Journal of Applied Ecology.
As part of a 17-year study investigating causal factors in the decline of the colourful broad-headed snake, Professor Shine and colleague Dr Jonathan Webb, also from the University of Sydney, with Rob Pringle and Mindy Syfert of Stanford University, examined trends in habitat availability of Australia's most endangered snake.
Using historical and current images of Morton National Park, 160 km south of Sydney, the research team compared aerial photographs taken in the 1940s and 1970s with satellite images taken in 2006 to ascertain the relative coverage of vegetation and bare sandstone in each year.
"The results indicate that the amount of bare sandstone, which is critical habitat for broad-headed snakes and their prey, has decreased steadily over the past 65 years," Professor Shine said.
The study also showed that total vegetation cover in Morton National Park an area currently inhabited by broad-headed snakes has increased over the same 65-year interval.
"The reason for the proliferation of vegetation is not known. In other parts of Australia, vegetation thickening has been attributed to altered Aboriginal fire regimes or to 20th-century climatic change," said Professor Shine.
Dr Jonathan Webb
|Contact: Melanie Thomson|