A THREAT ABATEMENT ADVICE
This threat abatement advice reflects the best available information at the time of development (October 2014).
Last updated April 2015.
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The purpose of this threat abatement advice is to identify key actions and research to abate the threat of ecosystem degradation, habitat loss and species decline in arid and semi-arid Australia due to the invasion of buffel grass (Cenchrus ciliaris and C. pennisetiformis). Buffel grass comprises a suite of species and ecotypes native to Africa, Western and Southern Asia that are now rapidly colonising arid ecosystems in Australia. Abatement of this threat can help ensure the conservation of biodiversity assets including threatened species and ecological communities listed under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act), Ramsar sites and properties on the World Heritage List. Other significant assets such as Indigenous cultural sites, state and territory listed assets and remnant vegetation would also be better protected.
This advice provides information and guidance for stakeholders at national, state, regional and local levels. It suggests on-ground activities that can be implemented by local communities, natural resource management groups or interested individuals such as landholders. It also suggests actions that can be undertaken by government agencies, local councils, research organisations, industry bodies or non-government organisations.
The intention of this advice is to highlight those actions considered through consultation to be of highest priority and which may be feasible, rather than to comprehensively list all actions which may abate the threat and impacts posed by buffel grass. Relevant groups or individuals may determine their capacity to undertake the abatement activities included in this advice. The Australian Government acknowledges the complexity of dealing with this threat, as many pastoralists in rangeland Australia still value buffel grass for its production and economic values.
Description of the threat
Buffel grass species are high-biomass tussock grasses that are generally long-lived, deep-rooted and able to out-compete native vegetation. They can flower and fruit rapidly following rainfall for prolonged periods and produce a large amount of seed which disperses easily. They can be tolerant to drought, fire and grazing and can naturalise on a wide range of soil types and landscapes.
Because of these qualities, buffel grass is important to many rangeland pastoralists. Unfortunately, it can impact directly on biodiversity values, for example through competition, and indirectly through increasing the frequency and intensity of fires. These hotter fires can affect groundcover vegetation (including bush foods important to Indigenous communities) and carry into the canopy of keystone arid zone trees such as river red gums (Eucalyptus camaldulensis), corkwoods (Hakea species) and beefwoods (Grevillea striata) with flow-on effects to other plants and animals. They can also increase the risk of damage to infrastructure and cultural sites.
When buffel grass is dense it can dominate light and space, reducing opportunities for native vegetation establishment. Even at lower densities buffel grass may reduce soil nitrogen, exhaust the mineral pool and inhibit plant regeneration and growth through competition and allelopathic suppression. Buffel grass can aggressively colonise riparian habitats, displacing native vegetation. Infestation of water points such as soakages and rock holes can impede access to sites of Indigenous cultural significance. Buffel grass is considered a ‘transformer weed’ of the Australian rangelands due to its ability to transform the basic attributes of habitats. Many consider it to be the most debilitating weed of natural ecosystems in arid and semi-arid Australia where it can directly or indirectly displace and threaten a large number of native and endemic plants and animals.
Detail on buffel grass biology, growing conditions, establishment and spread can be sourced from items in the resources section of this document.
Outside of arid and semi-arid Australia, other high biomass and flammable introduced grasses, including gamba grass (Andropogon gayanus) and perennial mission grass (Cenchrus polystachios), have been listed under the EPBC Act as part of a key threatening process in northern Australia. A threat abatement plan has been prepared for this key threatening process.
Buffel grass and legislation in Australia
Ecosystem degradation, habitat loss and species decline in arid and semi-arid Australia due to the invasion of buffel grass (Cenchrus ciliaris and C. pennisetiformis) was nominated as a key threatening process under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). The Threatened Species Scientific Committee considered the nomination in 2012 and 2013 and noted that this threat is recognised in the overarching key threatening process ‘Novel biota and their impact on biodiversity’ and therefore will not be listed as a separate key threatening process. The Committee recommended the development of a specific threat abatement advice to address the threat.
Novel biota and their impact on biodiversity is listed as a key threatening process under the EPBC Act. Novel biota refers to organisms that are new to an ecosystem, and the scope of this broader key threatening process covers all invasive species including weeds. It is eligible for listing because:
- it could cause native species to become eligible for listing as threatened under the EPBC Act, and
- it adversely affects the population numbers, habitat quality and geographic distribution of listed threatened species and ecological communities through predation, herbivory, competition, mortality and habitat loss and degradation.
The South Australian Government has declared buffel grass a weed under the Natural Resources Management Act 2004.
In New South Wales it is included in the key threatening process listed under the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995, Invasion of native plant communities by exotic perennial grasses
 This advice includes Cenchrus pennisetiformis (Cloncurry, white or slender buffel grass) on the basis that it may become a greater threat than C. ciliaris in southern Australia. Other Cenchrus species with potentially major impacts in Western Australia include C. setiger (birdwood), C. echinatus (burrgrass) and C. biflorus (Gallon’s curse).