Lyrebirds: nature’s ecosystem engineers

Researchers from La Trobe University have discovered the superb lyrebird – famous for its extraordinary vocal range and ability to mimic almost any sound – can move more soil than any other land animal globally.

Lead researcher and PhD candidate Alex Maisey found wild superb lyrebirds displace on average 155 tonnes of soil and leaf litter per hectare in a single year while foraging for food, making an important contribution to forest ecology.

Mr Maisey tracked the activity of wild superb lyrebirds over two years in the Central Highlands of Victoria, across three locations – Sherbrooke Forest, Yarra Ranges National Park and Britannia Creek catchment.

“In just one year, we calculated that each lyrebird in Sherbrooke Forest moved a load equivalent to that carried by 11 standard dump trucks,” Mr Maisey said.

Mr Maisey said their extensive raking and displacement of litter and soil occurred year-round.

“The superb lyrebird truly is Australia’s most hard-working ecosystem engineer,” Mr Maisey said.

“While seeking invertebrate prey, they use their sharp claws to expose bare earth, and mix and bury litter.

“Just like the well-known beaver in North America, that uses logs and mud to dam a stream and create a deep pond, this Australian songbird is changing the environment in ways that can benefit other organisms.”

/Public Release. The material in this public release comes from the originating organization and may be of a point-in-time nature, edited for clarity, style and length. View in full here.