Arid zone adaptations with Woomera

Pretty Digital - Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Students from Woomera Area School visited Arid Recovery last Thursday. The students had been given an assignment on adaptations to the environment, and came to the Reserve to obtain some further information and partake in some fun hands-on learning. 

A group of 9 students, aged from 8 to 17 years old arrived at 10am on a beautiful autumn day. The students were given a safety induction, and topped up their sunscreen and water bottles before setting off on a tour along the nature trail. Stopping at each sign post, the students asked intelligent and thoughtful questions, in order to give them as much background information before they started on their assignment.

It was then back to the ATCO for recess, before getting started on a tracks and scats workshop in the sand dunes. The students identified the tracks of our reintroduced species and other common animals of the Reserve by comparing tracks in the sand to photos on a handout. They also learnt how to identify the scat of various animals, including herbivores, reptiles and carnivores. The workshop concluded with a track drawing session in the sand.

Students identifying tracks in the sand with Education and Community Officer, Anni Walsh

A flora ID workshop was next, with the students learning the difference between grasses, shrubs and trees.  Some common plants of the region were pointed out, and the students learned which plants the animals prefer, and the various adaptations that have enabled the plants to survive in harsh conditions.

The smell of a sausage sizzle bought the kids back to the ATCO for a delicious bbq lunch, and then it was time to learn about trapping and tracking animals at Arid Recovery.  The students learnt about the different traps that target different animals, before setting a cage trap and an Elliott trap and then had a go at radio tracking.

“The Woomera kids were brilliant,” exclaims Education and Community Officer Anni Walsh. “They were extremely well behaved, and were really in-tune with what we do at Arid Recovery.”

“I’m sure that they will go back to school with a greater understanding of arid zone adaptations, and I hope that they had a great time while they were visiting the Reserve.”

 Students drawing tracks in the sand to help with their identification skills

If you are interested in visiting Arid Recovery with your school, please email education@aridrecovery.org.au

 

Mulga Snake caught in mesh

Pretty Digital - Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Arid Recovery Field Officer, Craig Wyatt and volunteer Zac Richardson got a surprise today when they saw a 1.7m long Mulga Snake (Pseudechis australis) caught in the Arid Recovery feral-proof fence.

“We were driving along checking cat traps as we do every morning, when I noticed a long dark shape at the bottom of the fence,” Craig explains. “As I went to have a closer look I noticed it was a Mulga Snake. The poor bugger was caught in the fence and had recently carked it.”



Craig believes that the Mulga Snake must have been on its last legs. “It was covered in ticks, and I think the struggle to get through the small gap in the mesh must have worn it out,” Craig said.

Craig brought the Mulga Snake back to the Arid Recovery office for the staff to do a closer inspection. A stomach content analysis showed that the Mulga Snake’s gut was full of worms and an entire juvenile sleepy lizard (Tiliqua rugosa)!



Although it is sad that the snake passed away, it is a natural part of life, particularly in the arid zone at the end of summer, where food and water is scarce.

If you would like to find out more about snakes in the arid zone check out our snake awareness blog.

Annual Trapping done and dusted

Pretty Digital - Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Annual trapping 2014 has been and gone for another year, with a whirlwind of excitement, animals and extreme weather conditions.

The lids are securely closed on pitfall traps, equipment is packed away, and the volunteers have all returned home. Arid Recovery internship student and database queen, Bianca, has plugged in the data from Arid Recovery’s 17th year of annual small mammal and reptile trapping.

This year’s field work was challenging, thanks to our unpredictable arid zone climate. The temperature throughout the week was in the low to mid 40s, with thunderstorms threatening on the final days of trapping. Even the wet weather and stormy conditions couldn’t put a dampener on the enthusiasm of volunteers, with some embracing the change in weather conditions with an elaborate rain dance!

A total of 110 mammals were captured in 2014, with all native mammal species caught inside the Reserve. The Spinifex Hopping Mouse (Notomys alexis) was the most abundant mammal species. However, the introduced House Mouse (Mus musculus) was trapped inside the Reserve and at sites beyond the fence, and was found in traps more often than other native species, the Plains Rat (Pseudomys australis) and Bolam's Mouse (Pseudomys bolami bolami).

Bec West concentrates carefully whilst processing a Lerista (Lerista labialis)

The Leristas (Lerista labialis) were by far the largest number of reptiles captured, with 143 of these slippery suckers pulled out of pits. Other common cold-blooded captures include the Royal Skink (Ctenotus regius) and the fine-looking Ford’s Dragon (Ctenophorus fordi).

In total 18 different reptile species were captured and brought back to the lab for processing. To the volunteers' delight some rarer reptile species also made an appearance, with the distinctly stripy Desert Banded Snake (Simoselaps bertholdi) and the cute Crowned Gecko (Lucasium stenodactylum) keeping the crowds smiling!

 

A small Spinifex Hopping Mouse (Notomys alexis) found in a pitfall trap

Arid Recovery’s Ecologist, Cat Lynch, was impressed with this year’s trapping efforts. “Mammal captures appeared relatively low, however comparisons with 2013 trapping data shows that we caught a few more critters this year!” remarks Cat. “A wide variety of reptile species were trapped, giving all staff and volunteers an opportunity to appreciate the unique fauna of the Roxby Downs region.”

The success of Arid Recovery’s annual trapping relies on the help of volunteers.  Arid Recovery would also like to thank all of the people that kindly donated their goods and services to the annual trapping program. This includes Sodexo, Roxby Leisure Centre, Woolworths, Transpacific, RoxFM and the generous people of Roxby Downs that donated jars of peanut butter.

Astonishing Arid Plant Adaptations

Pretty Digital - Wednesday, August 13, 2014

AR intern and passionate plant lover, Bianca Amato, shares some of the amazing adaptations that have enabled plants to survive in harsh environments, such as the arid zone.

In the summer months you may notice the plants around Roxby Downs looking a little shrivelled and worse for wear. However, similarly to desert dwelling animals, arid plants have adapted to survive in the heat. Below are some of the strategies different plants use to thrive in the arid lands.

Conserving water: Plants lose water via evapotranspiration, which is the movement of water through the plant into the atmosphere. Plants with greater surface areas transpire faster and lose a greater amount of water. Arid plants need to hold on to as much water as they can. Many arid plants have miniature leaves or spines which reduces surface area. Not only do spines reduce water loss, they discourage animals from eating plants for water. Sclerolaena are prickly chenopods that possibly use this strategy to conserve water.

Protection from the heat: Plants with green leaves absorb heat. In the desert that is the last thing a plant wants to do. Arid plants have adapted to have blue-grey-green coloured leaves to reduce heat absorption. Low Bluebush (Maireana astrotricha) is a common chenopod around Roxby Down that reduces heat absorption from its blue-grey leaves. 

Reproduction: When it is simply too hot people escape the heat by staying inside. This is also what a number of annual plant species do. Annuals complete their short life cycles during the wet season. They grow, produce seeds and die. The seeds remain dormant and survive in the dry environment. When conditions are favourable the seeds germinate and the plants exploit the wet conditions.


After a rain event the wild flower Fleshy Groundsel (Othonna gregorii) covers the landscape at Arid Recovery. Photo by Cat Lynch, Arid Recovery Ecologist.

Drought tolerance: During the summer months or extended dry periods drought-tolerant plants tend to look dead. They will look like a bundle of sticks with a lack of leaves and foliage, yet these plants are anything but dead, and are in a dormant state as they wait for the rain.

Photosynthesis: Photosynthesis is the conversion of carbon dioxide, water and energy from the sun into sugar and oxygen. Photosynthesis creates chemical energy which fuels the plant to grow and reproduce. Plants absorb carbon dioxide via their stomata (a pore that controls gas and water exchange) during the Calvin cycle. When it is hot the stomata swell so water cannot evaporate, thus reducing water loss. The Calvin cycle is optimal in cooler climates when the stomata rarely has to close, but how will a plant in the desert absorb carbon dioxide when they are trying to reduce water loss? The answer is C4 pathways. C4 plants have different structure within their cells that allow them to fix carbon dioxide at lower concentrations during drought and high temperatures. The stomata of C4 plants can stay closed for longer, reducing water loss. Grasses and saltbushes such as Bladder Saltbush (Atriplex vesicaria) survive so well in the arid lands because they are C4 plants.

Next time you are at your local garden shop, think about growing some locally-native arid plants. They do not need much water and tolerate hot temperatures and poor soil conditions.

Check out our blog for more information on how animals survive in the heat, or visit the Australian Arid Lands Botanic Garden website for information on buying arid plants.

Arid Recovery Strategic Planning

Pretty Digital - Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The following post was written by Mark Priadko, Acting Chair of the Arid Recovery Bard.

For more information on the Arid Recovery Board and strategic planning see the 2013 Annual Report.

The 2013 strategic planning day with AR staff and board at the Reserve.


In November 2013, the Arid Recovery Board met in Roxby Downs and Olympic Dam for a board meeting and for its annual strategic planning meeting.  Being in the area for a day and half gives us a chance to spend time with staff and time on the Reserve.  The time spent in the region seems only like yesterday, but here we are already in the middle of January.

Arid Recovery is a world-class science precinct for arid zone recovery.  The AR Board is very proud of this and acknowledges the work and commitment of staff and of the local community in making Arid Recovery what it is. 

In the strategy session the Board reflected where Arid Recovery has come from and where to next.  Sessions over the past few years have seen our planning largely revolve around opportunities from BHP Billiton’s expansion or otherwise at Olympic Dam.  In our 2013 session we focussed on where we want Arid Recovery to head in its own right.

We want to build on the successes in the Reserve by looking more broadly.  Success for Arid Recovery means more than re-introducing and sustaining species inside the Reserve.  Success means sustainability across arid zones that are subject to a range of uses including conservation, pastoral, community and mining.  It is our view that sustainable conservation should complement rather than displace multiple land-uses. 

Our vision is for Arid Recovery to become the global leader in sustainable restoration of multi-use arid ecosystems. 

The Reserve is very much part of this vision.  So to are the ongoing partnerships we have with BHP Billiton, DEWNR, the University of Adelaide and the local community.  Each of these is foundational to the Arid Recovery vision. 

We have set ourselves to focus on four objectives to achieve this vision:

  • Leading research and application in and around the Arid Recovery Reserve
  • Developing and applying a multi-use business model on lands across the arid zone
  • Building our brand and reputation in the global community
  • Running a robust business from the Arid Recovery Office at Olympic Dam

As a not-for-profit organisation, we will continue to face the ongoing challenges of weighing up ambition with resourcing.  To create the capacity to achieve this vision a critical part is to diversify our revenue streams.

For our current staff, members and volunteers, the direction of our strategy should be seen as one that aims to build from the strong foundation formed over past 16 years.  We will need to sustain that foundation while embarking on selected ventures that will demand some of our time and attention be directed outside the Reserve. 


Annual Small Vertebrate Trapping 2014

Pretty Digital - Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Arid Recovery’s annual trapping program is the longest running trapping event of its kind in Australia, and you have the opportunity to take part in the monitoring for 2014! 

Develop your skills in ecology, learn about the mammals and reptiles of the unique arid zone and meet other people that share the same passion for the environment and conservation. 

Participation in Arid Recovery’s annual trapping will give you skills in:

  • Pitfall trapping
  • Elliott trapping
  • Animal ID
  • Laboratory processing
  • Animal husbandry
  • General field skills
  • Reserve maintenance tasks

Come and join Arid Recovery’s annual trapping for 2014 

  • When: Arrive Sunday 9th February and depart on Saturday 15th of February
  • Where: Arid Recovery, Roxby Downs, Outback South Australia
  • Cost: $375 includes a 1 year membership to Arid Recovery, and accommodation and food for the duration of the event 

There is only a limited number of positions, so register your interest quickly to secure a place. 

Email volunteer@aridrecovery.org.au

Arid Recovery volunteer Paula enjoying participating in the pitfall trapping.

2013. The year of the Bettong

Pretty Digital - Wednesday, August 13, 2014

2013. Arid Recovery’s 16th year of operation. Full of school visits and success, flora and fauna, and bettongs, lots of bettongs!

We kicked off 2013 with annual trapping, which is always one of the highlights of the year for Arid Recovery staff and volunteers. One of the longest running trapping events of its kind in Australia, 2013 did not disappoint, with an abundance of arid zone animals captured in our pitfall and Elliott traps. The swale sites produced common critters such as the Royal Ctenotus skink (Ctenotus regius) and Spinifex Hopping Mouse (Notomys alexis) as well as rarer finds including Bynoe’s Gecko (Heteronotia binoei) and Bolam’s Mouse (Pseudomys bolami).

Feral cat month rolled around in May, with Arid Recovery emphasising the devastating impacts that feral cats have on our precious native animals. We looked at the Roxby Downs cat by-laws and investigated the increase in feral cats seen at nearby Andamooka. Arid zone ecologist, John Read also jumped on the bandwagon, providing us with more evidence against those hungry felines with the results of gut content samples that he had analysed from the APY lands.

Our education programs were in full swing throughout the year, with numerous schools visiting the Reserve and AR education staff attending events in Adelaide and Port Augusta. Memorable moments include Port Lincoln students experiencing firsthand what it is like to work in the field of conservation, whilst Muso Magic filmed the visit and later aired the footage on Imparja TV for their show Outback Tracks!

The dingo transects, which had been monitored for five years as part of the dingo research project, were wrapped up in November. After many kilometres clocked up on foot counting tracks in the sand, the staff involved where extremely happy to complete this monitoring project. The latest results have been included alongside the five year data set, and trends in predator activity and prey abundance will be closely analysed to determine the role that dingoes play in our arid zone ecosystems.

However, whilst the above recollections have been impressive, all Arid Recovery staff and volunteers have to agree that 2013 has been all about bettongs. With nearly 1500 bettongs trapped, processed and transported from the Reserve to a release site north of Arid Recovery, it is safe to say that we have bettongs on the brain! Working throughout the night, the hardworking efforts of AR staff and vollies to combat bettong overpopulation issues inside the Reserve have not gone un-noticed.

Above is just a snapshot of our highlights and achievements for the past year. It is hard to fit a year’s worth of accomplishments into a short blog, so please trawl through our blog archive to find out more about what else we got up to at Arid Recovery during 2013.

The team at Arid Recovery would like to say a huge thank you to all of our dedicated volunteers that helped make 2013 such a successful year. We couldn’t have done it without you, and we look forward to another year of achievements at Arid Recovery.

Home sweet home

Pretty Digital - Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Here at Arid Recovery, it’s pretty quiet during the day - you could almost be excused for thinking that we don’t have any animals inside the Reserve!  However, at night time the Reserve is alive with a range of critters darting across dunes and foraging through foliage.

Many of the animals that live in the arid zone are nocturnal. This means that they sleep during the day and are active during the night when the weather is much cooler. It is often mammal species that are nocturnal; however reptiles and amphibians may also become more active at night during the warmer months.

So now that we know the animals are only seen at night, where do they go during the day?

Each of our re-introduced species has a unique home that they can retire to after a long night. These homes keep the animals safe and cosy, and can house one or a large number of critters, depending on the animal and its home.



  • The Greater Stick-nest Rat builds its home out of sticks (above). The nest is generally built around a bush and can be over 1 metre in height. Sticks and branches are dragged to the site in the rat’s mouth, with larger branches gnawed down to a manageable size and added to the nest. The sleeping sites within the nest contain soft vegetation and grass, with tunnels built from the outside to reach these points. 
  • Burrowing Bettongs construct a burrow in deep loam or sandy areas, and are the only member of the macropod family to shelter underground. The burrows often form warrens, which have multiple entrances. The floor of the warren is lined with vegetation to create nests for sleeping. Complex warren systems can have 11 or 12 entrances. One warren system found on Barrow Island had 120 entrances with about 60 bettongs living in it!  
  • Bilbies are powerful diggers, constructing a spiralling burrow which may be 3 metres long and up to 1.8 metres deep. The entrance to a bilby burrow is often under a small shrub and at Arid Recovery is usually left open. At other locations bilbies often backfill their burrow entrance, possibly to protect it from predators or to regulate the burrow temperature. Bilbies frequently dig new burrows and occasionally return to their old ones.
  • The Western Barred Bandicoot (WBB) shelters during the daylight hours in a nest. It digs a shallow hollow in the ground, usually under a low shrub and fills the hollow with sticks and leaves. A single entrance and exit point is disguised from predators using leaves, and the WBB will make a quick exit if disturbed by predators. Some WBB’s will use the same nest repeatedly over the course of the week, while others will move to a new nest each night. If caught out in the open a bandicoot will use another animal’s burrows to shelter in until the threat has gone away.

Many other animals are known to live underground at Arid Recovery, including sand goannas, scorpions, spiders and the incredible Trilling frog.

Merry Xmas to all...

Pretty Digital - Wednesday, August 13, 2014

To all our members, supporters and volunteers,

Thank you all for another fantastic year. Your help throughout 2013 whether it be at the Reserve, at an event or just by reading our newsletter is invaluable and we thank you one and all.

Arid Recovery could not achieve what it does without your support and we hope that we will see and hear from each and every one of you in 2014.

I would like to say a very special thanks to all AR staff for their amazing efforts this year. For those of you who have not been keeping up to date with our bettong project the AR staff, through the great organisational efforts of Cat Lynch, have achieved a super human feat of moving over 1500 bettongs – a record number unheard of previously by anyone, anywhere! So to Cat, Anni, Craig, Tina, Hayley & Vanessa who have worked throughout the year to make AR what it is I say thanks.

A special mention should also go to AR’s part-timers, Marty Kittle & Katherine Moseby. Marty, who is now in his 10th year of checking the AR fence, continues to be a great support to myself and all AR staff with his knowledge and easy going ways. Katherine, now as AR’s research scientist, has recently started on an amazing new project that will see AR research & the Reserve go onto bigger and better things over the coming years.

Have a safe and happy festive season and as a special treat our fabulous volunteer Alix Palmer has written an AR Xmas carol. We hope you enjoy.

Kylie Piper
General Manager
Arid Recovery


12 days of AR Xmas



Flora fun

Pretty Digital - Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Arid Recovery is not just about the animals. In fact, if it wasn’t for our plants we wouldn’t have our cute bettongs and all the other animals. For this reason, it’s vital that we monitor the health of the vegetation inside the Reserve.

Flora monitoring at Arid Recovery was established right from the start, in 1997, with a range of techniques used to enable us to collect long-term data on vegetation condition, cover and species diversity inside and outside the Reserve. Now, with over 15 years of data, it gives us a great opportunity to begin analysing this data to see if we can determine trends in relation to the effects of our introduced and reintroduced herbivores, and to determine the strongest indicator species for monitoring grazing by herbivores to help trigger management actions when overgrazing occurs.

Recent analysis of this data showed that, while we have an excellent dataset, there are modifications to our monitoring that we can employ in order to get even more out of the data we collect. Over the past few months, Arid Recovery’s Ecologist, Cat Lynch, has been working with our Research Scientist and Craig Baulderstone, who previously worked at South Australia’s Pastoral Board, to further develop Arid Recovery’s flora monitoring program.

It was determined that a number of small quadrats should be set up at each of our sites to provide data on cover of flora species; data which was generally not being picked up through other methods. Craig was recently kind enough to visit Arid Recovery for a week to assist Cat with setting up the new quadrats and collecting data. With his two kids, Mick and Tom, in tow, Craig very enthusiastically trudged the dunes and swales in very hot weather to measure all the saltbush, blue bush, ruby saltbush and other weird and wonderful flora that makes Arid Recovery and the arid zone so unique.

The monitoring event was very successful, with a range of data collected that will assist us with determining the effect that our reintroduced herbivores (i.e. bettongs and stick-nest rats) have on vegetation inside the reserve, as well as the effect that introduced herbivores (i.e. rabbits) have on vegetation outside the Reserve.

We thank Craig very much for volunteering his time to assist Arid Recovery with our flora monitoring program.

 

Craig Baulderstone working on the vegetation quadrat

 

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