The Rothwell Research Centre
Rebuilding a Broken Ecosystem
Relationships between species evolve over the millennia, but they can be destroyed in just a matter of years. And it's happened a lot in Australia's
grasslands. This is Mount Rothwell Research Centre in Victoria. It's 400 hectares of high-security grassland. Scientists here are trying to restore
animal relationships and thus mend a broken ecosystem.
It's surrounded by 11 kilometres of fencing. 7,500 volts protect the parameter… And it's patrolled every day.
I'm feeling a little imprisoned. But then, this fence is not designed to keep things in. It's actually designed to keep things out.
You see, in here is the largest piece of native Australian grassland left in this region, and this fence is helping keep out a whole load of
animals that they don't want in here.
This moggie is, or was, someone's pet, but she's also an alien predator that didn't evolve in this ecosystem. You see, Australia has no
native cats of any kind. Down under, she's an unstoppable killer along with feral dogs and foxes.
These carnivores would do anything to get their jaws and claws on what's in here. This is a brush-tailed rock wallaby. And because of these introduced
predators, he is now one of the rarest mammals in the world, and the extinction of just a few key creatures like him has had a catastrophic impact. Crucial
ecological relationships are in tatters here, and as a result, this native grassland is now far more endangered than any tropical rainforest.
Southern Brown Bandicoot
The question is, if you remove all of the alien animals and reintroduce the key native ones, could Australia's grasslands be brought back to life? On
the inside of this fence, a relatively small community of animals and plants has been saved, and I've got to say, some of them really are pretty odd,
and to stand any chance of seeing them, I'm going to have to wait until after dark.
Welcome to the weird world of the native Aussie night. This is a southern brown bandicoot… and I'm getting a superb view of it. I'm so close that I
can actually see the saliva glistening in its mouth as eschewing its food. It's one of about 20 different species of bandicoot, and they all come
equipped with this long, pointed and sensitive snout. And they are principally insectivores, meat eaters, but they do play a very important role
when it comes to maintaining the plant community in this ecosystem.
He spends all of this time digging for food. Either end of the night, he'll have covered the grassland with lots of snout-shaped conical pits. Here's
one of the pits, here. And when the wind blows, grass seeds are caught in here along with a lot of other detritus of which is rich in nitrogen. So they
become a perfect place for germination.
This is a bettong, otherwise known as a rat kangaroo. They are herbivores. At the moment, if you listen carefully, you'll hear it munching on some roots
or tubers that it's eating. All of these animals are so tame that it's no wonder foreign cats and foxes have almost wiped them out. As it feeds, it effectively
ploughs this hard soil, allowing air and water in, vital for the plants that live here. But so that these herbivores don't do too much damage, this miniature
Serengeti also has its own mini lion.
This is an eastern quoll, a pocket-sized marsupial predator. don't be fooled by his size. He can take prey much larger than himself. What's important is
that unlike cats and foxes, Quolls have co-evolved with their prey so they are a critical part of this ecosystem.
The Roswell experiment is working. Rare species of plants, birds and mammals, the entire grassland, is making a comeback here.
The secret to healthy grasslands is having the right species in the right place… And there's one animal that benefits grasslands more than any other on Earth.