Research History

Research involving wild Gouldian finches over the past 15 years has largely focused on their rapid decline. At first the presence/absence of Gouldian finches in northern Australia was noted (Tidemann, 1987) followed by research that addressed the role of pastoral practices and land management (Tidemann, 1986, 1990; Franklin, 1999). Banding data described moult patterns and seasonal abundance of birds at waterholes (Woinarski and Tidemann, 1992; Tidemann and Woinarski, 1994). The role of the parasite Sternostoma tracheacolum was investigated (Tidemann and McOrist, 1992) and diet analysis showed that Gouldian finches are specialist seasonal foragers of native grass seeds (Dostine et al., 2001; Dostine and Franklin, 2002). Tidemann and Lawson (1999) reported that the Gouldian finch was monogamous but this conclusion was reached without DNA verification. Fox et al. (2002) noted strong mate selection for head color and the possibility of mate infidelity. Importantly, the Gouldian finch shows high fecundity, but is still declining in the wild (Tidemann and Lawson, 1999).

Research on the effects of fire on vegetation focused on pasture management for grazing (Mott and Andrew, 1985; Landsberg et al., 1999), where fire was used for three main purposes: the removal of debris; killing of native plant species; and providing a favourable seed bed for non-native pasture sowing (Johnson and Purdie, 1980). Mott (1992) suggested that low intensity fires in northern Australia would not have a great effect on the fire adapted grassland species apart from the removal of the debris. In some species, e.g., Heteropogon contortus, there was evidence that fire stimulated germination (Shaw, 1957). High intensity fires have the potential to reduce regeneration of native species prior to the sowing of native pasture (Johnson, 1964; Johnson and Purdie, 1980); data indicated that hot fires late in the dry season were capable of killing native plants. Unfortunately for seed eating bird species, there has been little research to indicate how fires influence components of crop yield other than general biomass.

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