The dire state of mountain ash (eucalyptus regnans) forests in Victoria’s Central Highlands has been brought to light in a new study from The Australian National University (ANU) and the World Wide Fund for Nature – Australia (WWF – Australia). 

According to lead author and Biodiversity Councillor Professor David Lindenmayer from ANU, the mountain ash ecosystem – vital to Melbourne’s water supply – is suffering extensive degradation and significant biodiversity loss, warranting immediate action for its protection and restoration.  

Professor David Lindenmayer in the Victorian mountain ash forests. Photo: James Walsh/ANU.

“Our study puts forward the case for mountain ash to be listed as a Threatened Ecological Community under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC),” Professor Lindenmayer said. 

“There is only 1.6 per cent of the Central Highlands ash forest remaining as old growth forest. This also highlights the importance of intervening early to reduce the risks of ecological community collapse. 

“Thousands of species worldwide are at risk of extinction, but the vulnerability of ecological communities is less understood. In Australia around 100 communities have been acknowledged as threatened – however, this is likely an underestimation due to the lack of robust long-term data.” 

Analysing data from long-term monitoring and research studies in the mountain ash forests, the study finds that the structure, composition, and key ecological processes underpinning the integrity of the mountain ash ecological community have been drastically altered over the past century. 

“This is an ecosystem on the precipice of collapse as a result of decades of gross mismanagement; we need to urgently protect and restore this critical ecosystem,” study co-author Dr Chris Taylor from ANU said. 

The mountain ash community satisfies four of the six criteria for listing as a threatened ecological community, making it eligible for Endangered or Critically Endangered status. 

The study’s authors said this serves as a “clarion call” for immediate conservation efforts to protect the mountain ash forests in the Central Highlands of Victoria.  

“The research strongly advocates for the formal listing of this ecosystem as a Threatened Ecological Community under the EPBC Act,” study co-author Dr Elle Bowd from ANU said. 

Co-author Dr Kita Ashman from World Wide Fund for Nature – Australia added mountain ash forests are not only “vital for biodiversity” but also for carbon storage, tourism, and water production for the more than five million people of Melbourne. 

The study has been published in Pacific Conservation Biology.  

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