Pherosphaera fitzgeraldii (F.Muell.) F.Muell. ex Hook.f.

Podocarpaceae

Native to a very small area in the Blue Mountains of Australia where threats include pollution, invasive plants species and extreme fire events

Associated Names:

dwarf mountain pine and Blue Mountain dwarf pine

Distribution

Endemic to Australia in New South Wales where all extant sub-populations occur in the upper Blue Mountains between Wentworth Falls and Katoomba, a range of 9km. The total Extent of Occurance (EOO) is estimated to be less than 20km². Area of occupancy (AOO), based on presence in 4km² grid cells, is estimated to be less than 12km². Actual AOO would be much less due to its restricted habitat.

The most recent census (Jones, 1994) recorded a total of 455 individuals. It also indicated the no seedlings had been recruited during the previous six years. The total number of genetically distinct individuals is likely to be much less than 455 as the major method of reproduction appears to be from layering. Pollen and gene flow between sites is very unlikely due to physical and ecological barriers. There appears to be very little prospect of re-colonisation from one site to another.

Habitat and Ecology

Restricted to the spray zone at the base of, and on ledges along the side of a few waterfalls flowing over south facing steep cliffs.

Conservation Status

Global status

Critically Endagered B1ab(iii)

Global rationale

Pherosphaera fitzgeraldii meets the criteria for listing under Critically Endangered due to its restricted extent of occurrence (EOO) (< 50km²), its restriction to a single location that is subject to common threats (invasive species and pollution), severely fragmented population where gene or pollen flow is very unlikely to occur between any of the seven currently known sites and a continued decline in the quality of its habitat.

Global threats

The main threats relate to water quality and the possibility of catastrophic fire/ and or occasional drought events. This species has probably been restricted to these south-facing cliffs to survive increased fire and temperatures across southern Australia over the millennia, especially considering comparisons to the climate of its nearest relatives in Tasmania, 1500km to the south. One catastrophic fire in an El Niño period could destroy some populations and while it is unlikely that all would perish, recruitment and re-establishment would be very slow. In the 1990s, water quality was killing plants due to algae growth on stems and leaves but improved sewerage treatment and piping after1994 has lessened this threat. There is also some minor damage by people to plants near tracks. Invasive species such as blackberries and Montbretia are also a threat.

Conservation Actions

This species is nationally listed as Endangered under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 and is also listed as endangered under New South Wales state legislation (Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995). The majority of sub-populations occur within the Blue Mountains National Park. Weed control measures have been implemented and water quality at the waterfalls and in the catchment areas is being monitored. A limited ex-situ collection of clones is maintained at the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney.