Identifying the individual species and knowing the names of woodland plant species is only the beginning. Ecology is about discovering many interesting natural history facts. To understand how the woodland functions we need to look at the life histories of individual woodland species and how they interact with each other.
The woodland at the Australian Botanic Garden, Mount Annan is a remnant of western Sydney’s Cumberland Plain Woodland, part of a larger class of woodlands known as grassy woodlands, because of the predominance of grasses and herbs in their understories. For example you may have heard of the related Grassy White Box woodlands of the NSW western slopes. These, and other grassy woodlands, have environmental features, particularly the presence of clay soils, and sometimes many plant species in common. In contrast our nearby Sydney sandstone woodlands, such as in Royal National Park and the Blue Mountains, are shrubby woodlands; they have a predominance of shrubby species and very few species in common with Cumberland Plain Woodland, despite their proximity and similar rainfall. They are confined to low nutrient sandy soils.
As ecological scientists we’ve spent years trying to understand the ecology and interactions of species in our woodland, so that we can manage it to ensure that all the native species continue to survive. We’ve only scratched the surface, but would like to share what we’ve learnt so far, so that you can appreciate not only the woodland at the Australian Botanic Garden, but also the remnants of woodland that are elsewhere in western Sydney, and which may not be being treated as well. While other sites will have many species in common, most will have particular features that make each site special in its own way. We can’t tell you exactly what to do at your site, as ecological conditions and management issues may be different, but read on for information and ideas on a complex and fascinating subject!
How do woodlands function?
What are the life cycles of the plants and how long do they live. When do new plants germinate? What conditions favour some species but hinder others?
In a sense we want to try to take the woodland system apart, look at the individual components and the species ecology, and then put them back together to try to understand how they interrelate with each other through their community ecology.