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How bushtucker and biodiversity are bringing life back to land

PhD student Sara Cavalcanti Marques planting kakadu plums on the revegetation project with Traditional Landowners near Broome.

This World Environment Day, the United Nations is calling for the current generation to be the one that makes peace with the land.

Murdoch University students and scientists are heeding that call, working with local landowners in novel ways to protect and revive our unique ecosystems.

“Around the world we’re seeing plant and animal species disappearing. At the same time, there is an urgent need to mitigate global climate change,” Associate Professor Rachel Standish said.

“Carbon farming offers the opportunity to address both these challenges.” 

Dr Standish is an expert in the design and management of carbon projects to maximise carbon credits and – crucially – their co-benefits.

Her research is informing the development of the emerging carbon market in Western Australia and contributing to conservation of our unique biological diversity.  

“The common assumption from the carbon industry is that it’s better to plant monocultures – single species of eucalypts for example – because that’s an easy way to store lots of carbon.”

Dr Standish is challenging that assumption because it ignores the co-benefits of diverse plantations. 

“If you put lots of different tree species in, you create structure, more habitat for wildlife and the associated co-benefits. And that’s increasingly what the voluntary carbon market is targeting,” she said.

Given there’s little data on the co-benefits of different approaches to carbon farming, the team is filling the information gap to show how biodiverse projects can deliver more than just carbon capture. 

“You’ve got the carbon and then what else do you get? Do you get pollinators visiting? Is there the potential for honey production? Do you get wildlife using the projects as corridors to move through the landscape? These are the questions we’re answering,” Dr Standish said.

We can also use these carbon projects to link up bushland remnants so species can spread and establish themselves easier.”
Associate Professor Rachel Standish

The early signs of wildlife are positive, with Dr Standish recording a malleefowl – a bird that’s highly fussy about where it lives – in one of the projects she’s established in the southwest. 

“To see this bird interested in a habitat that’s been constructed is amazing. To see more could be species-saving.”

From the southwest to the far north of Western Australia, Murdoch University scientists and students are bringing biodiversity back with co-benefits that go far beyond carbon capture.

The gains spread across ecosystems, cultures and even economies.

PhD student Sara Cavalcanti Marques has been working in Broome where bushtucker has been identified as a potential contributor to restoring ecosystems around Australia, while providing on-Country employment opportunities for Indigenous communities.

Partnering with Traditional Landowners and North Regional TAFE in Broome, Ms Cavalcanti Marques is developing a training program to implement bushtucker cultivation.  

The chosen focus species for the project’s Broome location was the Gubinge, also known as the Kakadu Plum.

“We’ve chosen Gubinge as the key species due to its immense economic potential,” Ms Cavalcanti Marques said. 

“It holds the highest concentration of Vitamin C, is sought after worldwide and has cultural importance locally.”

Her project takes a two-pronged approach, delivering both positive environmental benefits through revegetation while also addressing rapidly growing demand for Australian native bush foods and medicines. 

It also provides a platform for upskilling Aboriginal Rangers in research and continuing their legacy of caring for Country.

“The demand for Australian native bush foods and medicines is steadily expanding, and with it, the demand for sustainable models of cultivation that address the substantial gap in Indigenous leadership and participation in the sector."

It’s another wonderful example of how land restoration can not only reverse the creeping tide of biodiversity loss but benefit the people and places around it. Dr Standish believes this is the type of big-picture approach required to overcome the challenge before us.

“As Australia, like many other nations, sets ambitious restoration targets to protect 30% of land and sea by 2030, we will need to experiment, innovate and work alongside Traditional Owners,” Dr Standish said.

“And we certainly plan to be there for the long term.”

Learn from experts making real world change at our School of Environmental

and Conservation Sciences

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Posted on:

4 Jun 2024

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