Raving for Science

Nathan Beerkens - Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Raving for Science

By Natasha Tay, Murdoch University

Ever thought you’d spend two weeks in the bush giving bettongs rave party feet and putting them on a runway for science? Well that’s how I spent this Mad May.

My PhD investigates anti-predator behaviour in marsupials, focuses on how anatomy affects their physical ability to escape from predators. We know that introduced predators are a major threat to our native fauna outside of fenced areas. Critical weight range marsupials (35g – 5.5kg), like bandicoots and bettongs, are especially vulnerable as they are the perfect size for cats and foxes to chomp on. Lots of work in Australian has focused on whether our marsupials recognise cats and foxes as predators, and then trying to teach our fauna to be more ‘predator-savvy’. Arid Recovery’s prey naivety project is a great example of this. But recognising a potential predator is only the first step - how the prey species responds to an interaction with that predator will ultimately determine their survival.

Burrowing bettong. Photo: Nathan Beerkens

Imagine you’re a marsupial and a hungry predator has its eye on you. It’s getting a bit too close for comfort so you decide to flee - but how? You really only have two options: you either outrun your attacker or outmanoeuvre it.

Over the past year I have been studying the anatomy of marsupials to determine their locomotor ability. I do this by analysing the size and shape of their muscles and bones. To proof my anatomical findings, I am recording how these same species move in the field.

At Arid Recovery, I released burrowing bettongs and western barred bandicoots down a runway to determine how fast they could flee and what type of path they would take - a straight bolt, or would they zig-zag in an attempt to confuse/outmanoeuvre the predator? Watch a video here.

To track each animal’s escape path I used fluorescent powder for foot prints and also filmed the runway from multiple angles.

Bettong foot being covered in UV dust. Photo: Melissa Jensen


UV bettong footprints in the sand. Photo: Natasha Tay

As my PhD progresses, I will be adding more species to my fieldwork list. If you’d like to keep updated on my PhD progress, please visit the Western WEB page.

Thanks very much to the staff and volunteers at Arid Recovery who assisted me with fieldwork.

Q&A - Reintroducing Quolls

Nathan Beerkens - Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Q&A - Bringing back Quolls!

By Nathan Beerkens, Katherine Moseby and Kath Tuft


In one week, 10 Western Quolls (Dasyurus geoffroii) will be reintroduced to the Arid Recovery Reserve from Western Australia. They will be followed by an additional two quolls from the Ikara-Flinders Ranges in South Australia.

This reintroduction is the result of a lot of hard work and close interstate collaboration between Arid Recovery, the WA Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA) and the SA Department for Environment and Water (DEW).

In this blog, we will answer some important questions about why we have chosen Western Quolls to be the next species reintroduced to our reserve and its implications.


What is a Western Quoll?

The Western Quoll is one of the largest carnivorous marsupials still extant on the Australian mainland.  It is unique and more closely related to a Papua New Guinean quoll (Dasyurus spartacus – the Bronze Quoll) than any of Australia’s species. It is also the only arid-adapted quoll and once occurred in the area around Arid Recovery. Read more about the world’s six quoll species here.

The Western Quoll is threatened with extinction.  Due to habitat clearing and alteration and predation by introduced foxes and feral cats, they survive in just 2% of their former range, which once covered 70% of Australia. As such, they are nationally listed as Vulnerable, and are a priority species for recovery by 2020 under the Federal Government’s Threatened Species Strategy.

Western Quoll. Photo: Katherine Moseby


Why are we reintroducing quolls to Arid Recovery?

There are several reasons why we are reintroducing the quolls to Arid Recovery. Firstly, as a top order predator they will hopefully perform a regulatory role in the reserve by preying on the burgeoning small mammal and Burrowing Bettong populations. These species are known prey items for the Western Quoll and are currently at high densities due to the low number of native predators in the reserve. Reintroducing a predator to the ecosystem will help recreate a balanced and entire natural ecosystem and more closely resemble pre-European settlement.

Another reason for reintroducing quolls is to improve the anti-predator response of our native species. Many of the species that we have reintroduced, such as stick-nest rats and bandicoots, come from offshore islands where they have been isolated from predators for thousands of years. Anti-predator behaviour can be lost quickly from island species leading to “island syndrome” where animals lose their fear response to predators. Placing animals into fenced reserves can exacerbate this making it hard to ever release animals out into areas where there are introduced predators. Reintroducing a native predator will hopefully improve the anti-predator response of our native species and help Arid Recovery achieve our goal of having animals beyond the fence.

Finally, releasing quolls may assist with the national conservation of the species by providing source populations for other release sites. Although Arid Recovery is probably too small to support a genetically viable population, we will be working with other organisations to conduct genetic swaps and manage the population at a national level.  


Western Quoll being released during our trials. Photo: Karrissa Harring-Harris


Can they survive here?

Trials conducted by Dr Rebecca West and Dr Katherine Moseby found that the answer is a resounding yes. There’s plenty of food and shelter at Arid Recovery and quolls can successfully reproduce. In 2015, two females were introduced to the reserve as a trial. They survived and found suitable shelter and food, so in 2016 two males were released. One of the females fell pregnant and gave birth to four young. Two of those babies were translocated to the Flinders Ranges and a third remains in the reserve and has grown into a healthy adult.

The adult offspring of our trial quolls, alive and well in the Arid Recovery Reserve. Photo: Arid Recovery


Can we monitor them after release?

Yes, all of the quolls will be radio-collared and tracked every day by a dedicated Reintroduction Technical Officer. Our RTO, Melissa Jensen, is exceptionally qualified for the job, having conducted a PhD on the Western Quolls reintroduced to the Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park in South Australia by DEW and the Foundation for Australia's Most Endangered Species (FAME). The quolls will also be monitored with track transects, cage trapping, and camera traps.

Melissa Jensen weighing bettongs at Arid Recovery. Photo: Kath Tuft


What will they eat?

Since quolls are carnivores, they will prey upon the native species within the reserve. During our trials, we monitored what the quolls were eating through scat analysis. They mostly ate rodents (spinifex hopping mice), but also preyed on bettongs, bandicoots and invertebrates. Monitoring suggested that these species were not adversely impacted by the quolls.

Spinifex Hopping Mouse. Photo: Darcy Whittaker


Are Arid Recovery’s threatened species at risk?

No. We will be keeping 14km2 of our reserve ‘quoll-proof’, to ensure that bandicoots and stick-nest rats are protected. The Main Exclosure has been made quoll-proof through floppy-top fencing, electric wires and foot-netting (preventing animals digging holes underneath). Our threatened species will be closely monitored after the quoll release through track transects, nest monitoring and camera traps, both inside and outside the quoll-proof exclosure.

A team from Conservation Volunteers Australia laying foot-netting to 'quoll-proof' the Main Exclosure. Photo: Kathryn Hastie


What about bettongs?

Arid Recovery’s population of Burrowing Bettongs is overabundant (read here). We know from our trials that quolls will eat bettongs, which will help to naturally control their population. Increasing the predation pressure on bettongs may also teach them better behaviours to avoid predators, potentially improving their survival chances outside of fences.

A naive Burrowing Bettong. Photo: Nathan Beerkens


Will quolls help the ecosystem?

Yes. For the past 21 years, the Arid Recovery Reserve has had no large mammalian predator (except in our experimental feral paddocks). Bringing in the Western Quoll will reintroduce a keystone predator into the system and hopefully help to lower the bettong population to sustainable levels. This will reduce pressure on the native vegetation, providing more food and habitat for other species like the stick-nest rat. The changes to the ecosystem might look something like the famous Yellowstone wolves  scenario, where bringing back wolves helped to control overabundant elk, which then let the vegetation grow back and other species like beavers thrive. Even rivers changed their course as the effect of this keystone predator cascaded through the ecosystem. Watch a video on it here, it’s an incredible story.

The Arid Recovery Reserve. Photo: Nathan Beerkens


When does it start?

8th May 2018

Stay tuned to find out how it goes!


How can I help?

You can help us cover a quoll's airfare and radiocollar by adopting a quoll or making a donation.

In the coming months we will be looking for helpers with keen eyes to identify juvenile quolls from their spot patterns as they emerge from their dens and are recorded on camera traps.

MEDIA ENQUIRIES: We ask media outlets to hold off reporting on this story until after the reintroduction has taken place. We will distribute a media release on the 9th of May with the full story and photos of the quolls as they explore their new home.

Education Centre opens

Admin Aridrecovery - Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Education Centre Opens

Over two years in the making, a new Education Centre is at last open on the Arid Recovery Reserve.

The Centre contains a large classroom space, two bunkrooms and a bathroom. Visiting school children, university students, professional groups, friends and families can now get out of the heat, the wind and the flies to listen to presentations, get into crafts, work through exercises, or even watch a movie. We can now sleep up to 18 people on the reserve. Maybe most notable of all: the reserve now has a flushing toilet – how about that for creature comforts!



Andrew Harris (BHP) and Eddie Hughes MP officially open the Education Centre. Photo: Kathryn Hollingworth

This is possibly the cheapest Education Centre ever built in South Australia, and we’re proud of that. It has truly been a community effort. The buildings were donated by the Roxby Downs Caravan Park in 2015 and moved into place by Toll, where they sat idle for a time until we raised the funds to do them up.


Old portable buildings were donated by the Roxby Downs Caravan Park in 2015 and sat idle on the reserve before we could raise the funds to do them up.

 

Thanks to the support of our community and friends in the Far North, we received state government funding through Fund My Idea to turn the Education Centre into a reality. With some extra funding provided by BHP, we were able to engage builder Ashley Stevens to join the long skinny buildings together to make a larger classroom. It wasn’t a particularly nice job working with these old portable buildings, but he did stellar work making them into a solid new structure.


You have to break eggs to make an omelette. Here our builder has joined two buildings together and begins the task of gutting them to make the classroom.


Several local businesses contributed their time and services to the renovations, including Mossy Electrical, Balaklava Stitch Joint, Minetech and Spotless. Roxby Downs District Rotary Club members came out on working bees, along with other volunteers from the community and further afield. We were very fortunate to meet Lionel and Sylvia, a volunteer couple who stopped in with us for three weeks to paint the centre and add all the little trimmings.



Hard working volunteers put their backs into digging a trench to connect the new centre to the solar power system.




Volunteers Lionel and Sylvia did an amazing job painting the inside walls and adding all the trimmings.



Spotless donated their time to paint the outside.

 

Thanks to all our friends and supporters in the Roxby community and beyond. We look forward to hosting you at the new Education Centre sometime soon.

 


The finished classroom. Artworks are displayed from science-arts workshops held throughout the year with the support of Inspiring South Australia.

Annual Trapping 2018

Nathan Beerkens - Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Annual Trapping 2018

By Kirra Bailey & Ben Stepkovitch

Annual trapping occurs in the start of March each year, with the session occurring for 5 consecutive days. 2018 marked the 20th year that Arid Recovery has conducted annual pitfall trapping, alternating each year between dune and swale sites, both inside and outside the reserve.

It cannot be done without a small army of staff, interns and volunteers. This year we had 19 people, split across 4 teams, including staff from Arid Recovery, Bush Heritage Australia, the SA Department for Environment and Water (DEW), Mulligan’s Flat Woodland Sanctuary and BHP Olympic Dam and volunteers.

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Our staff and volunteers hard at work. Photos: Nathan Beerkens

This year, we were trapping on the dunes. Our first day started with setting up a low fence-line running through the middle of our pitfall traps, which thankfully have already been dug in for us. Each site consisted of two lines of pitfalls with six pitfall holes on each line. This year, for the first time, we also trialed putting false floors in the bottom of pits - to provide reptiles a place to hide from any mammals that were also caught.


A false floor ready to be placed in a pitfall trap. Photo: Nathan Beerkens.

After each site was set up, the lids of each pit were removed, ready for critters to fall on in. Each site was checked for all animals and invertebrates in the early mornings at sunrise and in the late afternoon as the sun was setting. All vertebrates caught in the traps were placed in individual catch bags and then taken back to the lab for processing. Processing of the animals involved determining sex, measuring their body parts and weighing each individual animal. After being processed, the animals were kept safe in the lab until evening and were released at the same site they were captured.

Left to right: Plains mouse (Pseudomys australis); volunteer Kristi Lee with a juvenile sand monitor (Varanus gouldii). Photos: Ben Stepkovitch.

Every annual trapping session that we conduct each year is just as important as the next as it provides Arid Recovery with accurate long-term data. This allows comparisons between the abundance and diversity of the small mammals and reptiles found inside and outside the reserve to be made over time. This in turn can help determine whether specific animals are doing better in specific places.


Left to right:  Central Knob-tailed gecko (Nephrurus levis); Burton’s legless lizard (Lialis burtonis). Photos: Nathan Beerkens.

This year we caught and released a whopping total of 719 animals (including 563 individual animals, as some were recaptured during the session). There were 420 reptiles and 299 mammals, consistent with previous years trends of capturing more reptiles than mammals. We also caught 462 invertebrates.

Three species of very similar-looking geckos in the lab for processing. Left to right: Beaked gecko (Rhynchoedura eyrensis), beaded gecko (Lucasium damaeum) and crowned gecko (Lucasium stenodactylum). Photo: Sophie Wilkins.

The two main species of mammals caught were spinifex hopping mice (246) and plains mice (49). We caught more hopping mice and less plains mice this year compared to last year as hopping mice prefer to inhabit dune systems and plains mice prefer swales. The most common reptile, with 185 captures, was also a dune-specialist – the southern sandslider (Lerista labialis)

More friendly faces enjoying their annual trapping experience: Jonathan Vosser and intern Kirra Bailey. Photos: Ben Stepkovitch & Sophie Wilkins.

Arid Recovery would like to express gratitude towards all the volunteers who came to help out. Without them, it wouldn’t have been possible. Also, a special shout-out to the Roxby Downs children who gave up their weekend to join us...we see some great budding ecologists there!

Conservation for Kids - Bilby Burrow 2018

Nathan Beerkens - Friday, April 13, 2018

Conservation for Kids – Bilby Burrow 2018

By Nathan Beerkens

How do you get little kids interested in conservation? Or anything?

Make it fun!

Singing songs with 'Toddler Story Time'.

In the build-up to Easter, Arid Recovery and Roxby Traders hosted a week-long series of children’s activities in the heart of Roxby Downs. Around 250 children joined us to learn about the Easter Bilby through arts, crafts, stories and play.

Reading stories about how good bilbies are for Australia.

The arts and crafts activities were bilby-based and included colouring-ins, making bilby homes, making bilby hats and playing with bilby poo (not real).

The ‘poo’ was a hit, and was actually play-dough and glitter. Bilbies eat a lot of bugs and you can see shiny bug pieces in their poo. So, glittery play-dough was a good substitute. On one hand, we’re sorry to all of the parents whose youngsters talked about poo for the rest of the day. On the other hand, we don’t regret it!

A glittery bilby emerging from its play-dough burrow.

Other highlights included a scavenger hunt at the Roxby Downs Nippy Gym, where toddlers searched for hidden plush bilbies, an Easter raffle for people who shopped locally, visits from the Easter Bilby and ‘The Bilby Burrow’ – a sprawling network of cardboard box tunnels which the kids could not stop exploring.

The week was a great success and we’d like to thank all of the organisations and businesses which took part, including Roxby Traders, Nippy Gym, Roxby Downs Community Hub, the Community Library and all of the children’s groups and parents.

Some kids told us that bilbies were their new favourite animals, which we couldn’t be happier about.

As they say: you have to be aware before you can care.

It was great seeing bilbies lining the busiest part of town.

Quoll Babies Alive and Well

Admin Aridrecovery - Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Quoll Babies Alive and Well

By Nathan Beerkens

Meet Quentin and Quetzl; two Western Quoll brothers born at Arid Recovery and translocated to the Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park.

Young Quentin and Quetzl being handraised. Photo: Gini Andersen/Arid Recovery

That was in 2016. Now, both have been recaptured alive and well in their new Ikara-Flinders Ranges home. They are both healthy and strong adults living in a wild population founded by the South Australian Department for Environment and Water (DEW) and supported by the Foundation for Australia’s Most Endangered Species (FAME).

Quentin, re-caught in the Ikara-Flinders Ranges. Now full adult size and in good condition. Photo: Cat Lynch/DEWNR

The babies’ mother, Sepia, was one of two female quolls translocated to Arid Recovery in 2015, as part of a trial to see whether quolls born in the woodlands of south-west Western Australia could survive in the South Australian arid zone, where their species is now extinct.

The Arid Recovery trial went very well (read here) and the two females thrived. In 2016, two males were added. Sepia quickly fell pregnant and produced three gorgeous babies. Unfortunately, she died while they were still young and so, concerned for their wellbeing, Arid Recovery staff caught and hand-raised Quentin and Quetzl. Despite our efforts, the third baby could not be recovered and was assumed to have perished.

The quoll triplets caught on remote camera at Arid Recovery.

Quentin and Quetzl were moved to the Ikara-Flinders Ranges to boost the population of quolls reintroduced there. It is wonderful to see that they are surviving well in the wild.

In further good news, the third baby is still alive and well at Arid Recovery! It is still elusive and untrappable, so we don’t know whether it is a boy or girl, but we see it regularly on our camera traps. It is also now a healthy adult.


The third triplet, now an adult, alive and well in Arid Recovery.

Given the success of our quoll trials (read here), we will be conducting a full-scale reintroduction of Western Quolls into the Arid Recovery Reserve in May this year. We are very excited to help these gorgeous native predators thrive in the arid zone once more.

The end of the Western Barred Bandicoot?

Nathan Beerkens - Thursday, March 08, 2018

The end of the Western Barred Bandicoot?

By Katherine Tuft

Don’t worry, it’s not extinct, but a new study by the WA Museum says that the Western Barred Bandicoot isn’t who we thought it was.

Western Barred Bandicoots (Perameles bougainville) once lived over much of southern arid Australia, from Western Australia to New South Wales and Victoria. By the 1930’s, they were extinct on the mainland, largely due to predation by feral cats and foxes. They only survived on two islands (Bernier and Dorre), off the Western Australian coast and are currently listed as Vulnerable to extinction. They have been reintroduced to three predator-free sites: here at Arid Recovery, and Faure Island and Mt Gibson Wildlife Sanctuaries in Western Australia, and there are plans for reintroduction of Western Barred Bandicoots to sites in NSW in the near future.

The Western Barred Bandicoot's former range. Source: Western Barred Bandicoot Perameles bougainville, Burrowing Bettong Bettongia lesueur and Banded Hare-Wallaby Lagostrophus fasciatus National Recovery Plan (2012).

This new study looked at the morphometrics and genetics of museum specimens and concluded that what has been known as the “Western Barred Bandicoot” is in fact five different species. All five were very closely related, and four are now extinct. One of these recently extinct species is the delightfully named Perameles papillon or Butterfly Bandicoot. The only surviving species occurred in the far north-west of the country and is the species which has been used for reintroductions back onto the mainland.

The only surviving species of Western Barred Bandicoot. Photo: Nathan Beerkens

This means that their translocation to Arid Recovery was technically an ‘introduction’ rather than a ‘reintroduction’. Skulls of the now extinct bandicoot species from the region had larger auditory bullae than the other bandicoots. Auditory bullae are bulbous bony structures towards the back of the skull and are thought to amplify sounds. The extinct bandicoot might have had exceptional hearing, honed to detecting predators and prey in its arid environment, but we’ll probably never know.

Nonetheless, the bandicoots reintroduced into the Arid Recovery Reserve are thriving 17 years after their release. From 16 founders, we have a strong population of over 500 and are the only site with mixed genetics from both Bernier and Dorre islands. A recent study shows that not only have the genetics from both islands survived in our reserve, but the genetic diversity has actually increased.

The authors of this new bandicoot study question whether it is right to translocate the only remaining species of western barred bandicoot into areas formerly inhabited by extinct sister-species. In a perfect world, we would have the right bandicoot in the right place, but the Australian landscape has changed dramatically since the original five species of western barred bandicoot skipped and dug their way around the vast outback. Four of those species are completely gone, never to return. Many of their sympatric species of medium sized mammals have disappeared as well, some to last refuges on islands and others lost to history. In their places are hordes of rabbits, and with them feral cats and foxes.

Feral cat. Photo: Hugh McGregor

Busy digging bandicoots perform important functions in the ecosystem, turning over the soil, sequestering carbon and nitrogen, and creating constellations of little compost pits across the desert that facilitate the germination of native plants. This is exactly what bandicoots are busy doing at Arid Recovery. Whatever adaptations this West Australian bandicoot might be lacking for desert life does not appear to affect their long-term survival here. Surely it is better to have the ‘wrong’ bandicoot than no bandicoot at all.

Western Barred Bandicoot being released.

There are cases where moving and mixing groups of animals has been critical for saving species. Mountain pygmy possums foundered for years in remnant populations separated by miles and miles of country. In earlier years, managers took care to retain the unique genetic make-up of each population, on the assumption that animals in each population were especially adapted to the particular conditions at each site. Enormous efforts went into captive breeding, but still the possums failed to thrive. It was later identified that the main failure of the population to increase was due to inbreeding. In a short space of time, with some swapping of animals between populations, the possums are finally breeding well and their future is looking less bleak. You can learn more about this genetic rescue effort in this Conservation article, or watch the Catalyst episode.

I spent my earlier career working with brush-tailed rock-wallabies and continue to pay attention to the efforts to improve the outlook for these fantastically nimble animals. Genetic comparisons of brush-tailed rock-wallaby populations identified three distinct groups (called Evolutionarily Significant Units). Defining a subspecies as distinct from a species or some developing latent subspecies is somewhat subjective and rather fraught. These three groups are considered somewhere below the level of subspecies. And here’s where politics came in. One of the ESUs occurrs solely in Victoria. It did not cross the border into NSW. State legislation, armed as it should be to identify and protect endangered species, classified the Victorian rock-wallabies as Critically Endangered. Large sums of money and years of effort by many talented people were invested in saving the Victorian brush-tailed rock-wallaby. Some of the last remaining individuals were taken from the wild and brought into a captive breeding program. Pouch young were cross fostered onto mother wallabies from other genera (Tammar wallabies; read here) to fast-track the breeding program. And precious new animals were returned to the wild. Despite these herculean efforts, the rock-wallabies failed to do well, there was little successful wild breeding, and various unfortunate misadventures took a toll. In desperation, the Victorian rock-wallabies are now being mixed with rock-wallabies from NSW and the outlook for the species in Victoria is improving.

Brush-tailed Rock Wallaby. Photo: Katherine Tuft

Australian ecosystems are dramatically different now compared to 200 years ago, and will stay that way until feral animals can be fully eradicated. In this much altered landscape, I think it is counterproductive to be too precious about retaining the nuances of genetic variation or restoring landscapes to exactly how they were (or how we think they might have been). I believe we need to accept the state of things for now, and work with what we have. If an equivalent species can perform a similar function in the landscape, it’s better than leaving that role vacant. A slightly different little bandicoot digging around in the red sand is surely better than the gaping absence left by the original bandicoot’s extinction.

Click here to adopt a Western Barred Bandicoot.

In the Spotlight

Nathan Beerkens - Wednesday, January 24, 2018

- In the Spotlight -

Finding animals after dark

Written by Nathan Beerkens

This blog is a tribute to an unsung hero of conservation. A stalwart of science. The spotlight.

Lighting up the night is nothing new for people (who are notoriously bad at seeing in the dark!). Thousands of years ago we had candles, then oil lamps, then light bulbs and finally, in 1899, we invented the handheld flashlight.

By the 1950’s, spotlights were taking a hold in wildlife science and researchers could unlock more of the nocturnal world than ever before. You could look farther across plains, higher up trees and deeper into caves than ever thought possible.

Two spotlights used at Arid Recovery. The red filter lets us watch animals without affecting their night vision.

The spotlight revolutionised wildlife monitoring. Scientists set up regular spotlighting routes to track changes in animal abundances. We use this same tactic today, alongside BHP Olympic Dam. By spotlighting the same routes every three months for years, we can show how wild animal numbers (native and feral) have changed over time in Roxby Downs, Andamooka and our reserve. The data collected over the years has been useful in clearly showing the benefits of calicivirus in not only drastically dropping rabbit numbers but also in reducing the numbers of feral cats and foxes. Read more.

And the beauty of it? It’s simple. Cheap and simple. In saying that though, there’s a few tricks that could mean the difference between seeing heaps of animals, or none at all. Here’s a spotlighting 101:

  1. Hold the torch at eye level. And be prepared to see many eyes staring back at you. Cats, rabbits, foxes, kangaroos, sheep, nightjars, geckos and more. Also, spiders. Many spiders. If you’re brave enough, follow a ground spider’s eyeshine and you will find it. The bright shine will suddenly transform into a living eight-legged creature in front your eyes - maybe tiny, maybe huge. It’s truly a wonder.
  2. Shine at the horizon. If you’re in a car (or even walking), you’ll see more if the top of your light beam is touching the horizon. It can be tempting to shine exactly where you want to look, but shining at the horizon will open up a bigger field of view to see.
  3. Sweep forwards and back. Shine your light forwards, then back in line with yourself and then forwards again. This back and forth sweeping will help you find animals that don’t have much eyeshine, or try to scurry and hide.

Barking Gecko (Underwoodisaurus milii) found at Arid Recovery whilst spotlighting. Photo: Nathan Beerkens

Nowadays, there’s a new revolution in thermal cameras. And they have merit. These cameras, used like an old-school video camera, give warm-blooded animals nowhere to hide against a cold background.

But they have their problems. Firstly, they’re expensive. Secondly, you might need to use them AND a spotlight at the same time (thermal camera to find the animal and spotlight to ID it). And finally, in hot places like Arid Recovery, the background can easily be as hot as the animals we are trying to find! So all the thermal camera sees is a flat wall of heat.

Technology will continue to improve, and no doubt the thermal camera will one day become a key part of the wildlife scientist’s toolbox. But until then, and probably far into the future, the humble spotlight will continue to shine bright, giving us remarkable access to the nocturnal world.

Stickie Haven to go ahead

Nathan Beerkens - Thursday, November 30, 2017

Stickie Haven to go ahead


We put the Greater Stick-nest Rat in the spotlight in “Stickie September” and asked for your help to build a haven for these animals around the new Education Centre at Arid Recovery.

Thanks to our family of supporters and quite a number of new friends, we were able to raise over $5,000. The project can now go ahead.

Critical to our success was this article that appeared in the Age and the Sydney Morning Herald. We were flooded with adoptions for Stick-nest Rats, which until then had been our least popular threatened species for adopting.

The haven project can now proceed. We will fence off several hectares around the Research Station and new Education Centre using 50mm netting. Stick-nest rats can easily move in and out of that size netting, but bettongs that compete for the same food resources will be excluded. With a little bit of planting, we’ll encourage a garden to grow Stickies’ favourite food plants like quandongs and succulent saltbushes.

As well as being a wonderful place for Stickies, the Haven should also mean that visitors have a better chance of seeing and appreciating Stick-nest Rats as they stroll around at night. Encountering these animals is truly delightful, as these gorgeous dumpy rats often get about in pairs and run about playfully circling each other.

A Stickie peers through a roll of wire we’ll use to construct the Haven


Just… a bit… higher… Donated telemetry towers give us the tracking edge

Nathan Beerkens - Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Just… a bit… higher…
Donated telemetry towers give us the tracking edge


Radio telemetry for following wild animals is not a new science. The basics of VHF (Very High Frequency) radio transmitters haven’t changed since the 1980s (read this article from the archives). Batteries power the transmitter to bleep out at regular intervals, essentially just a very boring radio-program you detect with an antenna. The larger the battery, and therefore the larger the transmitter unit, the further the signal can go.

Radio transmitter technology has come a long way in miniaturisation. There are now transmitters small enough to attach to microbats and even butterflies – which are unthinkably tiny at 0.2 grams. Check out this clever lab group sciencing up the art of butterfly tracking.

As wonderful as this miniaturisation is, the fundamental principles of tracking are unchanged. Little transmitters with little batteries can’t transmit their signals very far. Even when units can transmit across a kilometre or so, the signal is often blocked by topography and vegetation. This is particularly problematic for burrowing animals like our burrowing bettongs where the signal transmission is even more limited.

The tried and true method in every field researcher’s book to deal with this challenge is to get a bit of height.

Hugh McGregor trying to pick up a signal with the ‘edge’ given him by a metre’s worth of pallets.

Getting height in the flat desert landscape at Arid Recovery isn’t easy. We’ll use anything we can to get just that little bit higher: the top of the vehicle cab, a pile of pallets and even a broom handle on the end of the receiving antenna.

Researchers in the 1980s were facing this same challenge to track feral goats in the Barossa Valley. They used 12 m tall towers with Yagi antennas mounted at the top to get some much needed height. Thanksfully, the Department of Primary Industries have donated these to us. There are two poles nested together, allowing the antennas at the top to be rotated from the ground to hone in on the direction a signal is coming from.

John Crompton steadies a tower as it is strained down. Photo: Nathan Beerkens

The University of New South Wales team is making use of the towers in the Dingo Pen at Arid Recovery right now, where bettongs have been translocated as part of the prey naivety project.

Next year we hope the towers will be helpful in following Western Quolls as we monitor a reintroduction to the Reserve. Thanks to the Department’s donation, this handy equipment is still useful and very much appreciated 30 years on.


By Katherine Tuft 

Blog

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Arid recovery is a conservation initiative supported by:
bhp
adelaide university