Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Melbourne jumps at chance to spring grasshopper plan

Hundreds of tiny, flightless grasshoppers will be released into Melbourne’s Royal Park, as part of a pilot project addressing the biodiversity emergency.

City of Melbourne Council has partnered with the University of Melbourne to restore the local population of Matchstick Grasshoppers – a declining native Australian species that is currently locally extinct in the municipality. 

“Protecting and enhancing locally endangered creatures in our ecosystem could not be more important, so we’re proud to be working with the University of Melbourne to reintroduce Matchstick Grasshoppers to our wonderful city,” said Lord Mayor, Sally Capp.

“We’re calling on Melburnians to look out for these tiny creepy crawlies and become a citizen scientist, to help us gather information to protect and restore their population.” 

Researchers have collected more than 3,000 Matchstick Grasshoppers from across Victoria, which will be reintroduced to suitable new habitats in Melbourne, including Royal Park in Parkville, Burnley and the Bayside area. 

The population will be monitored and assessed over the coming months, with grasshopper numbers hoped to jump into the thousands by 2023.  

The experimental translocation is Council’s first-ever attempt at reintroducing a locally extinct species, and an important milestone in its Nature in the City Strategy, which aims to support a diverse and resilient natural environment.  

“Insects are the unsung heroes of our ecosystem, playing a vital role in sustaining humanity by pollinating plants, turning over soil and providing food for creatures higher up the food chain,” says Environmental portfolio lead, Councillor Rohan Leppert.

“It’s fantastic to be welcoming the humble Matchstick Grasshopper back into our environment. We hope to see them flourish, and eventually, restore more species of invertebrates across our city parks, gardens and backyards.”  

Insects like grasshoppers play an important role in maintaining a healthy ecosystem and are an abundant food source for larger animals such as praying mantis, lizards and birds.  
The tiny, wingless critters thrive in habitats of everlasting daisies, native grasses and ample sunlight, and in environments that are free from weeds and predators.  

The Matchstick Grasshopper’s population has dwindled in recent years due to a scarcity of suitable environments and an inability to relocate from one habitat to the next.  

The project provides an opportunity to foster local food webs, and has ecological benefits, as well as education and community participation opportunities such as site management and species monitoring.   

“Before European settlement, these grasshoppers would have been common and widespread in the grassy areas of Melbourne that the Wurundjeri Willam managed with fire. It’s great to be able to renature Royal Park in this way,” says University of Melbourne Biosciences Professor Michael Kearney.

“Matchstick grasshoppers were a major focus of evolutionary research at The University of Melbourne in the 1960s. We have been able to build on this past work to help save these grasshoppers from extinction around Melbourne.” 

The Matchstick Grasshopper Renaturing project is being led by The University of Melbourne. 

“The Matchstick Grasshopper represents a uniquely Australian species that has been a part of Melbourne’s natural environment for hundreds of thousands of years,” says The University of Melbourne Chair of Ecological Genetics, Biosciences, Professor Ary Hoffmann. 

“It’s exciting to see these harmless and charismatic insects returned in the city as the Council recreates new natural environments that can support them.” 

“We look forward to these introductions being the start of a process to restore many other invertebrates that formerly called the city home.” 

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