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Wild Macadamia Champion!

This newsletter will be read by people who know a lot about macadamias, as well as by those who are starting the journey.  Our wish is that you the reader, will share what you know with others.  When decisions are made about wild macadamias, our aim is for all Australians to appreciate the importance of wild macadamias and the rich diversity of their rainforest habitat.  
So please, read on and then tell a friend or colleague … maybe they’ll also become a Wild Macadamia Champion.

Why we need Wild Macadamia Champions

Macadamias are part of the rich biodiversity of Australian rainforests, descendants of the ancient southern hemisphere family of Proteaceae.  So why have a Trust focused on macadamias rather than their sub-tropical rainforest habitat with all its wonders?

So many trees … so little diversity

The answer, perversely, lies in the delicious nuts of two of the species. A successful macadamia nut industry has resulted in over 8 million trees being planted, and that’s just in Australia. Orchard trees have been selected to be hardy, high yielding and often with thinner shells.  The best selections are grafted to produce exact replicas – good for management and yield, but with very little genetic diversity with which to combat threats from pests, disease or climate change.

Competition for Real Estate

As for the wild macadamias, their habitat requirements read like a real estate brochure – forested hills on volcanic soils within 50 km of the Pacific Coast, from 40 km south of Byron Bay to 100 km north of Noosa (only the rarest, Macadamia jansenii is somewhat protected by it’s remote location between Bundaberg and Gladstone). Much of the original habitat for the other three species has been cleared, first for farming and increasingly for housing development. Remaining sub-tropical rainforests have been carved up into ever smaller patches eventually becoming too small to survive the onslaught of weeds and a warming climate.

Genetic dilution

Many rainforest species are now at risk of inbreeding, but there is an extra challenge for macadamias. Wherever cultivated macadamia varieties are planted within 2 km of wild macadamias, pollen from their flowers can pollinate wild macadamias. As a result, some nuts produced by wild trees are 50% wild and 50% cultivated.  When the seedlings that grow from these nuts mature, some of their flowers will also be pollinated by cultivated varieties.  In a few generations, some trees in wild macadamia habitat will share more DNA with cultivated trees than with their wild and more genetically diverse relatives.  Over a relatively short time this will lead to reduced genetic robustness for macadamias.

That’s why Macadamias need a little extra help

By farming the species, Australians may inadvertently be decreasing the capacity of the macadamia to adapt to changing climatic conditions and survive the depredations of novel pests and diseases.  All sub-tropical forests are worth protecting for their biodiversity … but macadamias need a little extra help – and that is what the Macadamia Conservation Trust does.


Our newsletter needs a name!

No hard feelings (much!) but the Australian Almond Board already uses the wonderful name “In a Nutshell” for their newsletter …even so, there has to be a better name than “The Macadamia Conservation Trust Newsletter” so please, put your thinking caps on, and send any suggestions to Denise at wild@macadamias.org.
We’ll send a kilo of fresh nuts to the person who comes up with a winning name.


Have you seen our new Website?

Our website has been updated and can now be read more easily on a mobile phone or tablet. We’ll mostly keep photos out of the newsletter to make it quick and easy to download – but the website is full of them.
Check it out here.


Which wild macadamia species grow near me?

On our website you can access the new MCT Wild Macadamias App.  It takes 10 seconds or so to download, but it’s worth the wait! This interactive map shows approximate locations of all the surveyed wild macadamia trees on the MCT database – you can find out which species grow near you. Click on this link and scroll down to Which macadamia species grow near me?


First results from the Wild Macadamia Hunt now available

Healthy Land and Water have expanded the Wild Macadamia Hunt following its successful pilot project.  The results of the first phase of the Hunt have revealed some fascinating information and are now available on an interactive Wild Macadamia Hunt map.  Read the full story here.

Macadamia Musings by Ken Dorey

Ken is a stalwart of the Macadamia Conservation Trust and Big Scrub Landcare.  He wrote this article in 2010, a few years after the Trust was established.  I have tweaked it a little to bring it up to date – the Trust has raised the profile of wild macadamias and addressed some threats over the last decade, but many of the challenges remain.  Read on for a whirlwind history of wild macadamias …

If you’re from southern Queensland or northern NSW then chances are you’ve grown up with macadamias.

As Bauple, bopple, Baphal, bush or Queensland nut, macadamias, like thongs, cricket or the beach, have been part of growing up, an endearing childhood friend that, literally, never left the backyard.

If we’ve moved on, and the world is a faster, shinier place, then so has our childhood snack. We sometimes catch sight of it in glossy magazines or top-billing in foodie restaurants, moving in the finest of circles; and if we should stop to think, it’s with a bemused smile and the satisfaction that we enjoyed them before they became “World’s Best Nut” – who’d have thought!

But how well do we really know the macadamia? Perhaps one of the most startling things to learn is that their last common ancestor with other tree nuts lived over 100 million years ago.
Macadamias did not begin their journey from anyone’s backyard, but rather from a land so distant, so old and strange that we would not recognize it as Australia.
As the very first flowering plants appeared and diversified, the super continent of Gondwana started to split apart. Dinosaurs came and went and the macadamia’s ancestors evolved from the ancient family of plants that we now call Proteaceae. Volcanoes alternately ripped apart the forest and then nurtured it with fertile soils, while temperatures and sea levels rose and fell with each ice age. By 50 million years ago macadamias were part of vast Australian rainforests that expanded and contracted, evolved and endured.  Fossilised macadamia pollen has been found in the soil from diverse places along much of the east coast of Australia and fossilised leaves have been found in New Zealand.

Our friend the macadamia is a stoic and ancient time traveller, moulded by time and monumental circumstance.

As the continent moved north, Australia became drier and hotter, and the world’s oldest rainforests retreated to the wet coastal fringes. The First Peoples of Australia were probably delighted to find such a wonderful food but by then, macadamias were already an ancient and contracting species. Today nine macadamia-like species survive, five in wet tropical rainforests (these are now classified as Lasjia  – three grow in north Queensland and two in Indonesia) and four macadamias: Macadamia tetraphylla in northern NSW, M. integrifolia from the Gold Coast to Maryborough, M. ternifolia from Brisbane to Gympie and the rarest of all, M. jansenii at a single site near Miriam Vale.

Our friend, the macadamia, is certainly not what it seems, a brash, Johnny-come-lately ocker but might be better described as a stoic and ancient time traveller, moulded by time and monumental circumstance. The macadamia is a tough nut in more ways than one but for all that it was the arrival of Europeans that finally brought the macadamia to its knees.

In less than half the life span of a macadamia tree, over 75 % of macadamia habitat has been cleared for agriculture and housing, with survivors smothered by exotic weeds while their seedlings are eaten by livestock. Some were left as shade trees, or ironically, nurtured in our backyards where sadly, inbreeding and old age take a relentless toll.

Perhaps the greatest irony of all is the relatively recent ‘success’ story of macadamias. Within a few human lifetimes the macadamia has been discovered and feted by the world. Thousands of acres of macadamias orchards have been planted throughout former habitats in Australia and like the solid ranks of an avenging army they are conquering new territories in countries as diverse as New Zealand and Paraguay, South Africa and China. Macadamia trees now number in the millions, have new homes and are universally acclaimed.

Of course, we can take pride in an Australian success story, but all is not what it might seem. You see, this dramatic new increase in macadamias originated from the nuts of just two trees, collected in Australia and spirited off to Hawaii in the 1880s. Most of the varieties bred in Hawaii appear to have come from these two trees: our ‘avenging army’ is, in fact, an army of clones!

Meanwhile our rainforest macadamias are living a very different life. As the commercial hybrids prosper throughout the world our wild trees have never recovered from early habitat clearing and the introduction of weeds and rats; they’ve been forced to exist in smaller and smaller groves on creek banks or shelter in secluded gullies and road reserves. In southeast Queensland and northern NSW booming coastal populations have spread into the previously uncleared hinterland where houses, roads or quarries are replacing wild trees and isolating populations, making them vulnerable to smothering weeds, inbreeding or fire.

Our wild macadamia trees need and deserve our help. No one is deliberately trying to harm an Australian icon; we might not know that they’re becoming rare, we might not recognize them or know that they are present nearby, we may not even know where all the populations are.

The Australian Macadamia Society (AMS), the industry peak body of growers and processors, commissioned the first Threatened Species Recovery Plan for the four wild macadamia species.  That plan has now been adopted by the relevant State and Federal Governments. The plan calls for the discovery and mapping of all remnant populations and research into their genetic health and physical threats. Recovery actions include weed control of remnant habitat, fencing to exclude stock and protection from indiscriminate clearing and wildfire. The plan calls for property owners and Landcare groups to be given advice on how to protect trees and undertake some form of property conservation management.

The Macadamia Conservation Trust works to implement the Recovery Plan. You can help  by spreading the word, donating to the Trust and inviting others to become Wild Macadamia Champions.

Wild macadamias need and deserve a helping hand!

Know anyone else who loves macadamias or Australia’s rainforests? Please feel free to forward this email, or share a link to the newsletter using the buttons below.

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