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Shining nematolepsis back from the brink

Stem of shining nematolepsis showing damage by Sambar antlers. Photo: N. Walsh
A stem of a shining nematolepsis which has been damaged by a Sambar deer
Photo: N. Walsh
The only known site for shining nematolepsis following Black Saturday. Photo: N. Walsh
The only known population of nematolepsis plants after the 2009 Black Saturday bushfire
Photo: N. Walsh
A flowering plant of shining nematolepsis. Photo: J. Antrobus
A flowering shining nematolepsis (Nematolepsis wilsonii)
Photo: J. Antrobus

The only known population of the rare and threatened shining nematolepsis was destroyed in the 2009 Black Saturday bushfire. Conservation efforts before the fire have gone a long way towards saving this species.

The shining nematolepsis shrub (Nematolepsis wilsonii) is a member of the boronia family. It is known only from the edge of cool-temperate rainforest in the O'Shannessy River Catchment between Warburton and Marysville in Victoria.

Before the Black Saturday fire, about 200 adult shining nematolepsis plants were known. These were under threat of being damaged or destroyed by the introduced Sambar deer, which 'de-velvet' their new antlers each year on the shrubs. This has progressively ringbarked the remaining shrubs, killing about 10 per cent of the population.

Its perilous situation made shining nematolepsis an obvious priority species for collection by the Victorian Conservation Seedbank. Research into its germination requirements was essential for the establishment of new plants. The Melbourne Royal Botanic Gardens was commissioned to grow more than 300 plants from cuttings and seed, which were moved to sites of suitable habitat and fenced off to prevent further deer damage.

While the Black Saturday fires completely destroyed the original population of shining nematolepsis, the translocated plants were fortuitously unburnt. Nervous months of waiting followed, to see if new seedlings would germinate from soil-stored seed at the original site. The Victorian Seedbank’s laboratory research suggested germination was likely following a period of chilling, similar to seeds overwintering in the ground. Germination was successful, and a dense – albeit young and still vulnerable – crop of seedlings has now begun a new population.

Together, secure translocated plants, banked seeds, and the knowledge of conditions required for successful germination allow hope for the nationally endangered shining nematolepsis.