The Nature of Melbourne

Melbourne is known for its culture, sport and coffee, but it's high time we became known for something else - biodiversity. Arguably, we are already renowned for this: think of the peregrine falcons nesting on a CBD skyscraper, the myriad of birds in our backyards, and the beautiful native gardens and parks featuring native vegetation. However, the potential to increase biodiversity and create more green spaces is endless and we need to encourage those with the ability to do so to help build a more sustainable future for Melbourne. 

Although Adelaide recently pulled ahead of Melbourne in the race to be Australia’s greenest city, let's not forget that we were the World’s Most Liveable City in 2015 for the FIFTH year in a row (but hey, who's counting?). So why not make it even more liveable through increased biodiversity and sustainable urban planning?

Melbourne City Council recently held an evening of talks on the matter, titled Nature in Our Liveable City. This provided an opportunity to various academics in the field of urban biodiversity to share their perspective on what Melbourne can start doing better. 

Kookaburras can still be found right across Melbourne.  Photo: Chris McCormack

Kookaburras can still be found right across Melbourne. Photo: Chris McCormack

Historian and author Dr Gary Presland was apt to start off the night with reference to Australia's indigenous heritage and the importance of understanding how biodiverse Melbourne once was. As Wild Melbourne has discussed previously, Presland argues that wetlands are one of the most biodiverse features of Melbourne's landscape - the question is whether we can ever see a return to this biodiversity as it was prior to European settlement.

Dr Mark Norman of Melbourne Museum continued to enforce the point that parts of Melbourne's biodiversity are more underrated than others. In his opinion, invertebrate species are often pushed to the side in favour of more 'conventional' Aussie critters, such as mammals and birds. He argued that the rarely noticed groups of animals need to be brought to people's attention in order to support increased biodiversity - after all, spiders, flies and moths are as much a part of our city as anything else (although some may not like the idea!). For Mark, it's all about 'tuning your see what is actually out there', and projects like the revegetation of Westgate Park (that was once considered an 'industrial dump') are vital in the fight to support species through green spaces.

Ringtail possums are a common sight throughout Melbourne. Photo: Emma Walsh

Ringtail possums are a common sight throughout Melbourne. Photo: Emma Walsh

An associate professor of Melbourne University, Kirsten Parris further demonstrated the importance of green spaces and appropriate habitat for increased biodiversity. She argued that habitat loss and fragmentation, noise and light pollution, and introduced species are all factors strongly implicating species across Melbourne, especially in a time of rapid population expansion.

Yet another professor in attendance that evening, Tim Entwisle of the Royal Botanic Gardens suggested that people need to learn from what they already love. Even though native plants are incredibly important in supporting higher biodiversity, Tim explained that some people need to be able to relate to the plants that they know. For example, if you plant roses, learn about the native spiders you might find on them. People's backyards can indeed become 'a part of that urban forest' (although we do highly recommend planting native!).  

Tim also provided one of the most interesting facts of the night, explaining that a study in Toronto recently showed that the planting of 10 trees in a city block provides the equivalent feeling to residents as a $10,000 increase in one's annual income would. If that's not a good enough reason to invest in greener spaces, then I don't know what is. 

This might make some of you wonder how us humans fit into biodiversity. Well, as Tim's example portrays, studies show that greener urban spaces (that intrinsically lead to higher biodiversity in many places) are actually good for us. It's a popular point currently being made by both nature and health lovers, and suggests that biodiversity may actually help us live longer. Associate Professor Sarah Bekessy of RMIT pushed this idea strongly, stating that greener cities can result in reduced stress, improved cognitive development in children, reduced mental fatigue and reduced crime - to name but a few of the many benefits. 

She believes that we need to 'start thinking differently about nature', as biodiversity is continuously seen as a problem by many city planners and urban developers. But if it brings so many health benefits, why should it be? As a teacher of sustainability and urban planning, Sarah knows that green spaces and biodiversity are 'not just about nature' - they're about people too. Considering we have falcons living side by side with office workers, it is hard to disagree.

Cover photo from Wikimedia Commons, taken by Cooka.

Rachel Fetherston

Rachel Fetherston is an Arts and Science graduate who is passionate about communicating the importance of the natural world through literature. She recently completed her Honours year in Literary Studies, involving research into environmental philosophy and the significance of the non-human-other. She is the Arts and Philosophy Editor for Wild Melbourne.

Find her on Twitter at @RJFether.

Antechinus: Boom and Bust... Mammalian Style

If you’ve ever ventured out to rural areas, seen a small critter scurry across the veranda or through some bushes, and thought ‘Was that a mouse?’ - think again, because it may not have been!


Meet the Antechinus, also known as the Marsupial Mouse. Charismatic and energetic, Antechinuses are found throughout our countryside’s undergrowth and are one of our most underappreciated marsupials. At the root of this is the fact that the Antechinus is too often mistaken for the common mouse. In reality, however, the Antechinus has much more to offer…

The Brown Antechinus ( Antechinus stuartii  ). Image: Ian McCann / Museum Victoria

The Brown Antechinus (Antechinus stuartii ). Image: Ian McCann / Museum Victoria

Like their bigger, more ferocious Dasyurid cousins (such as Quolls and Tasmanian Devils), Antechinuses are carnivorous. They tend to feast on as many insects and bugs as is possible in their short life span, which is generally only a year or two depending on their gender.


It is this short life span that makes the Antechinus such a special creature. Being semelparous (only breeding once in their lifespan), these small marsupials live life at a hundred miles an hour. The males live for around a year, dying off in August after a mating season of approximately one month. This is what is so extraordinary about this creature:  the sheer stress of mating causes their immune system to shut down about two weeks after the breeding season. The result is that every male in the population dies off at the same time - a trait far more common in insects than vertebrates.

Agile Antechinus ( Antechinus agilis  ) and young. Image: Bruce Cowell (

Agile Antechinus (Antechinus agilis ) and young. Image: Bruce Cowell (

It is this very boom and bust nature of their life cycle that makes the Antechinus one of the most unique mammals on the planet. Of the six Antechinus species, the most commonly found are the Agile and the Dusky Antechinus, simply because they are so inquisitive. It’s not uncommon for one to be found scurrying around a kitchen looking for treats! So next time you see a creature scurry off into the bushes, don’t assume it’s a mouse. Rather, spare a thought for one of our state’s most curious and fascinating small mammals.