Annual Trapping 2017

Admin Aridrecovery - Monday, March 27, 2017
Intern Emily Gregg describes the 2017 annual trapping event in this photo blog.


Only a few weeks ago the Arid Recovery lab was bustling with activity. Our annual pitfall trapping was underway and the reserve was swarming with staff and volunteers, all working to collect and process a host of native critters.


Some animals caught during annual trapping: Smooth Knob-tailed Gecko, Beaked Gecko, Stripe-faced Dunnart, and Painted Dragon (Photos by Ryan Francis)

On Saturday the 4th of March, the team set about digging out trenches and putting up the low fence-line running along the pitfall traps. Thanks to previous work by Arid Recovery staff, the Community Development Program and the Port Augusta Prison Work Camp, the pitfall traps themselves were already dug out, making our job that much easier.


Mel and her team digging out trenches and setting up pitfall lines. (Photos by Tony Pitt)


Once opened, the traps were checked at dawn and dusk, and each animal was placed in a catch bag and taken back to the lab for processing. Each animal was then released back to the same site the following day.


Mel’s team checking traps, featuring a newly captured Dunnart, some Plains Mice and a Broad-banded sand-swimmer in a pitfall trap (Photos by Melissa Jensen and Nathan Beerkens)


Our annual pitfall surveys give us the opportunity to get a grasp of the abundance and diversity of the small mammals and reptiles living within the reserve. They also provide a chance to compare populations inside and outside the fence, and see whether certain animals are doing better without the threat of feral predators.


Processing animals in the lab, featuring a baby Gibber Earless Dragon, a Plains Mouse, Beaked Gecko, and Barking Gecko
(Photos by Melissa Jensen and Emily Gregg)


This was an impressive year, with the team catching 778 animals in total! This number included a whopping 420 reptiles, and 358 mammals. This increase may be partially due to our altered trapping method; this year we replaced Elliot traps with an additional pitfall line at each site.

This year we also collected invertebrates during trapping. These insects and arthropods are being sent to La Trobe University for identification, in order to investigate the diversity of invertebrate species inside and outside the reserve.


Hopping Mouse, Western Barred Bandicoot, and Plains Mouse (Photos by Ryan Francis)


As explained in Kath’s last blog, the Plains Mouse (Pseudomys australis) is doing incredibly well within the reserve. This year we caught 236 of them! Of these, almost all were found within the reserve, with only eight found outside. It’s a similar story for the Spinifex Hopping Mouse (Notomys alexis), another species which the team saw a lot of over the course of trapping. A bonus mammal catch this year was a juvenile Western Barred Bandicoot (Perameles bougainville), found within the Main exclosure by Katherine Moseby’s team.


Thank you to all the volunteers involved this year. This annual survey would not be able to occur without your help and enthusiasm!


Education Centre to be built at Arid Recovery

Admin Aridrecovery - Friday, March 24, 2017


We’re delighted to announce that this year we’ll be building an Education Centre at the Reserve.


In January we applied through Fund My Idea and got busy on social media to encourage the community to vote for our project. We were overwhelmed by the support and this Tuesday had word that we were one of the 2 top-voted projects. Arid Recovery will receive $15,000 from the State Government and a further contribution from BHP Billiton to make the Education Centre a reality. Congratulations also to Whyalla RSPCA for their successful project to upgrade emergency pet boarding facilities.


Buildings donated by Roxby Downs Caravan Park are moved into place, ready to be retrofitted into the Education Centre


The building will have a ‘Field Classroom’ for wildlife education activities indoors, between nature walks and spotlighting for native animals. There will also be a bunkroom for overnight camps, boosting the accommodation at the Reserve to 18 beds.


With the new Centre we will be able to host more and larger school groups, community groups and visitors. It will enable more people to get out to the reserve and have an encounter with animals they’re unlikely to see anywhere else.


The Centre will be built by retrofitting portable buildings donated by the Roxby Downs Caravan Park and moved into place by Toll. We’re ready to source materials from local businesses and the Rotary Clubs of Roxby Downs and Frankston (VIC) are enthusiastic to support the build with their team of tradies.


Thanks to everyone who voted and supported this project. We look forward to opening the new Education Centre by the end of the year.


The Education Centre will be a base for more students and visitors to have close encounters with desert wildlife that will make a lasting impression.


Build it and they will come

Admin Aridrecovery - Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Sometimes threatened species turn up on your doorstep. Kath Tuft describes how Plains Mice reintroduced themselves to Arid Recovery.


As anyone who has ever assisted a species reintroduction program will know, it’s a heckload of effort. Detailed translocation proposals and ethics applications need to be prepared. Animals have to be captured and transported from source populations, often on remote islands. Animals must be fitted with radiocollars and then intensely monitored for many months following reintroduction. All of this can take years, thousands of staff and volunteer hours, and big bucks (Moseby et al. 2011).

Nicki Munro and John Read release one of the first bilbies into Arid Recovery.


We had an incredible instance where a threatened species turned up of its own accord without anyone lifting a finger. This was the Plains Mouse, Pseudomys australis, a beautiful little native mouse from arid Australia.

Plains Mice were once widespread across large parts of inland Australia. Now their distribution is greatly shrunken and their occurrence almost entirely confined to a specific cracking clay habitat with characteristic depressions known as gilgais (Brandle et al. 1999). Plains Mice persist in parts of far northern South Australia, but had never been recorded near Roxby Downs and the Arid Recovery Reserve until 2006.

A young Plains Mouse. Photo: Helen Crisp


That was the year I first came to Arid Recovery as a volunteer on the annual vertebrate trapping survey. To everyone’s surprise, a unique rodent with a Roman nose and short tail turned up at a trapping site within the Northern Expansion. It turned out to be one of the first Plains Mice recorded in the area for many decades.

When the main trapping survey had ended I was tasked with finding out more about these new arrivals. Were there more? What habitats were they occurring in? What burrows were they using? I had a great time trapping about the place and surveying for burrows. To find their burrows we lightly glued tiny glow sticks to fur on their backs and followed them as they bounced off with their little beacon. At that time, the Plains Mice were confined to a fairly small area of the cracking clay and gilgai habitat they are known for.

Me trapping Plains Mice 11 years ago. Photo: Hugh McGregor


Coming back to Arid Recovery 10 years later the situation is entirely different. There are Plains Mice absolutely everywhere. You can’t drive anywhere without seeing them scampering across the track. Where once they were confined to the classic cracking clay areas, they now occupy all habitats within the reserve: dunes, stony swales and canegrass swamps. The first Plains Mice to colonise the reserve very quickly found they were onto a good thing with no feral cats and foxes to prey on them. With that predation pressure relieved, they happily occupied the whole place in abundance.

Map of Plains Mice records in 2006 (left) and in 2016 (right). From one corner of the reserve, they have spread across the entire place in all habitats.


How did they find Arid Recovery in the first place? Plains Mice were known from areas several hundred kilometres further north near Lake Eyre, but not as far south as Roxby Downs. The likely answer is that Plains Mice were given a lucky break by the release of calicivirus, Australia’s first rabbit biocontrol. Calici swept through the rabbit population in the late 1990’s. The huge drop in rabbit numbers seemed to lead to a substantial reduction in the numbers of feral cats and foxes. Plains Mice, and other small native mammals, expanded in range as a result (Pedler et al. 2016).

What’s particularly neat about the Plains Mice at Arid Recovery, is that they might now be re-seeding the surrounding landscape. Trapping over the last few years has found them in good numbers outside the Reserve.


Abundance of Plains Mice at trapping sites inside and outside the reserve over time.


The resourceful Plains Mouse did all the hard work of reintroducing itself into the haven that is Arid Recovery. Hopefully in time we will see them disperse and re-establish well beyond the Reserve itself. These little rodents have shown that predator-proof fenced reserves can have value well beyond their core purpose of protecting reintroduced critical weight range species.

We eagerly await the next endangered species to show up on our doorstep and find sanctuary.


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