Nancy Millis Science in Parks Award
To recognise the role of science in managing Victoria’s parks
In recognition of the substantial contribution of the late Professor Nancy Millis to the incorporation of science in park management, Parks Victoria has established the Nancy Millis Science in Parks Award which recognises an outstanding contribution to fostering excellence in applied science for the benefit of park management.
Applications for the Nancy Millis Science in Parks Award will open in early 2020.
About the award
Professor Millis was Chair of Parks Victoria’s Science and Management Effectiveness Advisory Committee since its inception 1997 and a member of Parks Victoria Board’s sub-committee on Environment. She was a passionate supporter of Parks Victoria's work as demonstrated by her attendance at many Parks Victoria events. Professor Millis attended the Parks Victoria’s Conservation Forum in June 2012, just a few months before she passed away.
Research into the effects of unplanned and planned fire on native plants and animals in the Great Otway National Park by a team of researchers from the University of Melbourne lead by Assoc Prof Alan York has been awarded the 2017 Nancy Millis Science in Parks Award.
The findings have provided a better understanding of how planned burns can be best applied to help conserve native plants and animals in the Great Otway National Park. The project has also given valuable insights into how introduced foxes respond to fire. Rangers can use these results to run more effective baiting programs.
Key elements of the research include:
- The project covered 60,000 hectares in the Great Otway National Park and Forest Park over 6 years and investigated how the arrangement of fires over space and time (known as fire mosaics) affects plants and animals.
- The research program, ‘Fire, landscape pattern and biodiversity in the Otway Ranges’ ran from 2010-2016 and involved four staff and seventeen students from the Fire Ecology and Biodiversity Research Group at the University of Melbourne.
- This research has helped guide decisions about the ideal frequency, severity and patchiness (burnt and unburnt land) of planned burns in this region to help create and maintain habitat for native animals.
- The many sub-projects over the 6 years included using GPS tracking to identify how swamp wallabies use of habitat changes during and after a fire, and the influences of fire on how native bush rats select habitat. Remote cameras also helped to identify that fire can lead to a 5-fold increase in introduced predators and some native animals can become more vulnerable to predators such as foxes after a fire.
- Some elements of the research are now continuing as part of the Otway Ark program that aims to protect threatened species through scientific monitoring and fox control.
- The program was funded by the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) and was a collaborative effort, involving the team led by Melbourne University’s Associate Professor Alan York working in close collaboration with local teams from Parks Victoria and DELWP.
The 2016 Nancy Millis Science in Parks Award was awarded to a ten-year collaborative research project led by La Trobe and Deakin Universities with significant involvement from Parks Victoria and DELWP staff. The project has shown that the effects of a single fire could last for well over a century and that too-frequent fire could put the survival of threatened plant and animal species at risk. The innovative research has resulted in significant changes to the way fire and strategic planned burns are managed in mallee ecosystems across Victoria and southern Australia.
Based in the Murray Sunset and Hattah-Kulkyne National Parks in north-west Victoria, this project was singled out for its outstanding contribution to understanding how best to manage protected areas and their sustainability.
Key elements of the research include:
- Building extensive knowledge on the plants, animals and landscapes of Victoria’s mallee to understand animal species and their habitat needs, and how fire influences the availability of those habitats.
- Developing sophisticated modelling tools to estimate the age of mallee trees.
- Combining tree age knowledge with satellite sensing techniques to identify and map areas of significant wildlife habitat. The acquired knowledge is essential in helping park staff to identify the key areas to protect when managing fire.
- Discovering that frequent fires led to the loss of multi-age vegetation, where the range of tree ages including older trees provide critical food, nesting and refuge sites for different wildlife species.
- Quantifying which wildlife species do or don’t bounce back when significant rainfall occurs at the end of a decade-long drought.
- Beneficiaries of this research include the tiny endangered Mallee Emu-wren, for which the world’s entire population is now restricted to north-west Victoria as a result of severe habitat loss from bushfires in South Australia.
The 2015 Nancy Millis Science in Parks Award was awarded to a team of researchers from Deakin University who have been investigating, since 2008, the effects of fire and climatic changes on native mammals in the Grampians National Park.
Key findings of the research to date include:
- For the first time, the Grampians has been shown to be a rainfall driven ‘boom-bust’ system for native mammals. The research has shown the relative importance of factors such as annual rainfall as a major influence for these species to survive after drought, flood and fire. This is directly helping to guide when and where fire and pest predator management programs are run within the park to help protect the native mammals.
- Small mammal refuges have been identified using the monitoring data and long-term satellite imagery. These include wet gullies and areas that maintain moisture even in dry seasons which the research has found are important for maintaining healthy mammal populations in the Grampians.
- Evidence from the study indicates that small mammals recolonise from within fire affected areas. It was previously not understood how mammals re-colonise intensely bushfire affected landscapes, and whether this happens from adjoining non-affected sites or whether they survive within the burnt areas. It has been shown that different habitat elements are important for different mammal species to survive post fire, including the presence of rock-outcrops, large trees or small unburnt areas for refuge.
The Inaugural Nancy Millis Science in Parks Award (2014) had joint winners: The Hawkweed project and Managing willow invasion on the Bogong High Plains.
The Hawkweed Project
Hawkweeds (Hieracium species) were discovered in the Alpine National Park by a University of Melbourne botany class in 1999. Initially University staff highlighted the threat posed by these extremely invasive species but since 2006 there has been a continuous and highly beneficial research partnership between the University, Parks Victoria and the Victorian Department of Environment and Primary Industries (DEPI). This has secured over $492,000 of research funding and produced 10 scientific publications. Together we have undertaken research to understand the ecology of Hawkweed species, predict their distribution and quantify the detectability of different life stages in a variety of vegetation types.
Our research has protected the parks biodiversity assets and transformed hawkweed control methods from ad-hoc searching to cutting edge, targeted, resource efficient searches based on knowledge of the species ecology, park habitat, searcher experience and plant detectability. We participate in state-wide control program meetings where research results inform and plan management actions. We also provide annual advice on survey strategies to achieve eradication goals. As a result Parks Victoria has significantly reduced Hawkweeds in the Alpine National Park, and the goal of eradicating it altogether is now a real possibility.
Managing willow invasion on the Bogong High Plains.
Extensive willow (Salix cinerea) invasion occurred on the Bogong High Plains within the Alpine National Park after the 2003 bushfires, which created excellent conditions for willow establishment. The willows threaten the FFG and EPBC listed alpine bogs and associated fens vegetation community.
The project was established in 2007 to apply decision analysis to assist managers manage willows efficiently. Two major decision analyses have been undertaken.
- An analysis to identify how control effort in any given year should be distributed across the park to minimise willow occupancy, taking account of likelihood of willow presence, previous control effort, imperfect detection and relative benefit to alpine bogs.
- A structured decision process to develop a long-term strategy for managing willows. This involved a three day workshop with managers and stakeholders from Parks Victoria, DEPI, North East CMA and Falls Creek Resort.
These analyses have assisted Parks Victoria and partner agencies to manage willows at a strategic level and provided guidance for the spatial allocation of annual control effort, given limited management resources. The project has also provided an integrated survey and monitoring framework that enables Parks Victoria to track changes in willow abundance.