Range retraction and the habitat selection of the western Partridge Pigeon (Geophaps smithii blaauwi) in the north-western Kimberley region, Western Australia

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science by Research


School of Science

First Advisor

Rob Davis

Second Advisor

Eddie van Etten


The northern savannas are one of the largest biomes in Australia, extending across northern and north-eastern Australia, and its vegetation has been extensively altered as a result of pastoralism and inappropriate fire regimes following the loss of indigenous fire management (Fraser, 2001; Legge et al., 2019). Small-medium sized mammals and granivorous birds are the most at-risk taxonomic groups (Franklin, 1999; Franklin et al., 2005; Murphy et al., 2010; Woinarski et al., 2010; Woinarski et al., 2013), and this has largely been attributed to unsuitable fire management, predation by feral cats, grazing by introduced herbivores, cane toads and invasive grasses (Fraser, 2001; Legge et al., 2019; Woinarski et al., 2010). The Partridge Pigeon (Geophaps smithii) is a granivorous bird species endemic to the northern savannas of Australia and has faced major declines disappearing from half of its pre-European distribution (Davies et al., 2019; Franklin, 1999; Fraser et al., 2003), largely due to changes in burning regimes, grazing by exotic herbivores and predation by feral cats. As a result, the Partridge Pigeon is an excellent model species for examining savanna management practices (Davies et al., 2019; Fraser et al., 2003). The aims of this study were: 1) to quantify the changes in the distribution of G. s. blaauwi over time; 2) to assess these changes against IUCN criteria to re-evaluate the species’ current conservation status; 3) to determine the land tenure across the species’ current distribution to evaluate the importance of Indigenous owned and managed lands in the protection of this species; 4) to understand habitat selection of G. s. blaauwi and the influence of fire regimes on habitat selection at landscape scales; 5) and lastly to understand the influence of fine-scale variables on G. s. blaauwi habitat selection.

Following my analysis of the changes of G. s. blaauwi range over time I determined that it should still be classed as Vulnerable based on IUCN criteria but recommended that more surveys be undertaken to better assess the poorly surveyed areas of their distribution. Analysis of land tenure indicated that this species mostly occurs on Native Title land (93%) and in areas under Indigenous Protected Areas management (49%). I highlight the importance of Indigenous owned and managed lands for protection of G. s. blaauwi and emphasises the critical role IPA and conservation areas may play in the protection of biodiversity and threatened species in Australia. Next, I was able to determine that the most important geological and vegetation structures for G. s. blaauwi are woodland and open woodland areas that occur on alluvium and colluvium. This allowed me to develop a clear conceptual model of what habitats and fire management practices are required to support G. s. blaauwi populations. Lastly, my investigations of fine-scale habitat variables found none of the assessed variables influenced G. s. blaauwi site occupancy.

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