Biodiversity

Pristine natural refuge

Urannah is a pristine valley of environmental significance, with a protected natural heritage that makes it an important home for many species. The extensive range of Urannah contains a diversity of terrestrial habitats, including steep mountains and forested valleys. Flowing through Urannah is Urannah Creek and the Broken River, which is the most permanent river in the Burdekin river system.

The inaccessible nature of Urannah, with its steep valley walls, has meant that there has been little human disturbance to the area. It remains one of the few remaining examples of pre-European vegetation for the region, and for the country. No weeds have been observed at Urannah, which contests to its pristine nature and importance.

Flora

Urannah contains several forest ecosystem types: ironbark forests on the valley slopes; and in the valleys and on the riverbanks, bluegum forest (Eucalyptus tereticornus) and black iron box forest (Eucalyptus lyptusraveretiana)1. The bluegum forest at Urannah is listed as an endangered regional ecosystem1. Urannah is a rare example of pre-European native pasture, with the understorey on the riverbanks dominated by native grasses. The dominant grasses in the area are the 3 awned grass, black spear grass and kangaroo grass1. 20 plant species have been recorded at Urannah during biodiversity surveys1.

Terrestrial Fauna

Koalas have been observed throughout the bluegum forest in the valley. Urannah is home to betong and several species of kangaroo, including the tree kangaroo, the grey kangaroo, and the pretty face wallaby.

30 species of birds have been identified during surveys at Urannah, including five species of honey-eater, kookaburras, cockatoos, eagles, and owls1. Other bird species, such as kingfishers and pelicans, are also common at Urannah. Urannah is home to species of conservation concern, including the IUCN listed “near threatened” black necked stork (Jaiburu), and the “vulnerable” grey falcon1.

Aquatic Fauna

The river systems of Urannah are home to Urannah’s most iconic animal: Irwin’s turtle, Elysea irwini. Irwin’s turtle, which was first discovered by Steve and Bob Irwin in 1990, is endemic to the Broken-Bowen River system and the lower Burdekin River2. The turtle is of high conservation significance, with a restricted range and population demographics that place the species at risk of decline. It is considered that the proposed construction of Urannah Dam would have a significant negative impact on Irwin’s turtle2.

The endangered Eungella day frog has been found at Urannah, but there is little known about the population size. A biodiversity survey identified five species of fish in the rivers, including rainbow fish, 5-barred grunter, spangled perch, sooty grunter and blue catfish1. Crocodiles are known to live in the rivers of Urannah. Platypus also live in the creeks and rivers.

Information gaps

Given Urannah’s isolation and lack of disturbance, it is likely that the area contains many rare and important species. There have been limited biological surveys conducted at Urannah, and more information is needed to assess the biodiversity and conservation status of populations at Urannah. More information is needed to understand the vulnerability of rare species to the proposed dam at Urannah, such as Irwin’s turtle and the Eungella day frog. It is likely that these species, which have a restricted range, would be greatly impacted by the loss of populations at Urannah.

References

1. Sutton, I. 2004. Urannah – What’s at risk? A preliminary investigation into its biological assets. Available at: http://members.westnet.com.au/ibsut/urannah.pdf

2. Threatened Species Scientific Committee. 2009. Elseya irwini (Irwin’s Turtle) Listing Advice. Available at: http://www.environment.gov.au/system/files/pages/1cd5c5bd-d9b8-4b5f-ada6-c53f050dfa81/files/78961-listing-advice.pdf

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Biodiversity August 9, 2015