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The distribution and status of Malleefowl in the wheatbelt of WA and the role of landscape management in their conservation

Malleefowl (Leipoa ocellata) are considered to be a species under considerable threat across Australia. We developed a project to assess their distribution and status in the Western Australian wheatbelt. The project, which was funded through the Natural Heritage Trust via Avon Catchment Council (now Wheatbelt NRM) and WWF Australia, commenced in 2005 and was completed in May 2008.

The Malleefowl is a large (~2kg), sedentary, ground-dwelling bird that uses a combination of fermentation and solar radiation to incubate its eggs in mounds. It is one of three species of mound builders in Australia. The species is listed as “vulnerable” under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 and in Western Australia, is listed as “fauna that is rare or is likely to become extinct”.

A juvenile male Malleefowl tending a mound (Photo credit: J. van der Waag).

The Western Australian wheatbelt has been extensively cleared over the past 100 years and vegetation remaining is typically small in area, fragmented, and isolated.  The scale of clearing (>90% of all vegetation) has resulted in the wheatbelt being identified as one of the most stressed landscapes in Australia and a major loss of habitat for the Malleefowl.

Malleefowl are subject to a variety of threatening processes within their Western Australian range, including land clearing, fox predation, unsuitable fire regimes, and grazing of their habitat by stock.  

Members of the North Central Malleefowl Group checking an active mound (Photo credit: B. Parsons)

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