Quoll scat-venger hunts!

Kimberley Solly - Monday, October 12, 2015

I’m sure you’ve all been waiting in anticipation for our next blog after the introduction of our newest members of the Arid Recovery family, two female Western Quolls called Sepia and Koombana. We left you hanging, pondering what it is that Sepia and Koombana have been eating.

In the Flinders Ranges quolls are preying on adult rabbits and sheltering in their warrens, however in the feral free Northern Expansion at Arid Recovery, there aren’t any rabbits to feed on. While Koombana and Sepia are living in bettong warrens, it is not yet known if they are eating Burrowing Bettongs, or other native mammals. Koombana and Sepia’s dietary composition is being monitored by collecting and analysing their scats. Just two scats have been found while on scat scavenger hunts surrounding Koombana and Sepia’s nesting sites, so The ARC’s Project Officer Bec West has given the girls a helping hand by creating a public toilet for them to use. Quoll scats donated by the Flinders Ranges population are placed on toothpicks to replicate a latrine, which would be used by quolls in the wild. One of the quolls visited the latrine, had a scout around, but did not leave us a scat treasure!

Quolls are carnivorous marsupials- can you see mammal fur in this scat?

Remote cameras captured one of the inquisitive quolls investigating the human-made latrine site. Western Quoll scats (collected from the Flinders Ranges) are mounted on toothpicks along the top of the log. Credit: Bec West


Discovering quoll scats across the 30 km2 fenced expansion is proving to be much like finding a needle in a haystack. Although named after shipwrecks like the other females released into the Flinders Ranges, Koombana is proving herself to be an exceptional explorer for which the male quolls are named after. Females in the Flinders Ranges have an average home range size of 4 km2 and should have core home ranges with very little overlap with other females. Elsewhere, males released into Francois Peron National Park in Shark Bay moved 30-40 km, some moved more than 100 km from the release site. Bec West had to resort to using a plane to radio-track the pair of quolls from the air in the first few weeks after release as their high mobility and lack of high points on the sand dunes made it very difficult to keep up with them on foot. 


Shelter locations for each of the female quolls since release on 06/05/15. Red point displays the first location (release pen) for each quoll and the dotted line indicates locations in date order from that point until 25/08/15. Credit: Bec West

Finding the quolls is difficult enough, so you can imagine trying to find their scats is even harder. Koombana and Sepia were originally fitted with a VHF radio transmitting collar, which is commonly used to radio track the quolls to den sites during the day. We search high and low around these den sites, but still have only found two scats! Western Quolls move swiftly along the ground with their greatest activity through the night. Radio tracking the quolls at night with just a VHF collar is near impossible, but knowing the whereabouts of Koombana and Sepia between their daylight den sites would be of great benefit. Sepia’s collar has been swapped to a VHF collar with GPS so that fixed coordinates of her position at 9 pm, 12 am and 3 am can be downloaded. After two weeks the collar will be swapped to Koombana so that we can piece together a pattern of nocturnal foraging activity which can be used to narrow our scat search area! 

Written by Kimberley Solly, Scientific and Education Officer


Spot our newest members of the Arid Recovery family

Kimberley Solly - Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Under the darkness of the night on May 6th two female Western Quolls (Dasyurus geoffroii) were released into the Arid Recovery Reserve. Koombana and Sepia (named after WA shipwrecks) were wild caught from Menjimup and Julimar respectively in Western Australia and were among 37 other quolls who travelled to the Flinders Ranges, where quolls are currently being re-introduced. They had already travelled a lengthy journey from Western Australia including a 9 hour flight to Wilpena Pound and a 4.5 hour drive to Roxby Downs. These nocturnal carnivores were released at night to minimise stress levels and to maximise the period available to familiarise themselves with their new home.


Sepia captured outside her burrow in the release pen on night 3. Credit: Bec West

The Western Quoll or chuditch as it’s known in Western Australia is one of four extant species of quoll found in Australia. There are also two other living quoll species found in Papua New Guinea! Some refer to quolls as native cats, as they are medium sized carnivores with males of the Western Quoll species weighing up to 1.3 kg, while females weigh up to 900 g. Quolls have a distinctive coat which is rusty-brown to grey colour with the Western Quoll having up to 60 whitish spots along their body, but none on their tail.


Koombana and Sepia are being used as native in situ predators as part of the current Australian Research Council Linkage project with the University of NSW to see if they can improve the anti-predator responses in our re-introduced mammals (Burrowing Bettong, Greater Stick-nest Rat, Western Barred Bandicoot and Greater Bilby). Three of the four re-introduced species at the Arid Recovery Reserve were extinct on mainland Australia and the primary reason for their demise and difficulty re-introducing them outside of fenced reserves is that they have an inability to mount effective anti-predator responses (Moseby et al. 2011). The ARC project aims to improve the survival of native mammal species by exploring prey naivety to introduced predators (cat) and trialing native predators (quolls) as a means of improving anti-predator responses.

Whilst Arid Recovery isn’t looking to re-introduce Western Quolls just yet, Koombana and Sepia are pioneers of a potential future re-introduction. A long term goal of Arid Recovery has been to re-introduce a native predator to moderate herbivore populations and reflect a natural ecosystem. While we have reptile and bird predators, we are yet to return any mammalian predators to the Reserve. The ARC Project Officer Bec West will be closely monitoring Koombana and Sepia for the first 10 months, whereupon a review of the trial will decide whether the quolls are having a detrimental impact on the threatened species within the Reserve. If they are found to be having a negative impact on populations they will be relocated to the Flinders Ranges with the rest of the newly formed quoll population, if not they will be left in situ to form part of a longer term study at the Arid Recovery Reserve.


Sepia having a health check-up! Credit: Kaarissa Harring-Harris

To survive quolls require about 104-140 g of food per day, feeding primarily on invertebrates and opportunistically on mammals, birds, and reptiles (Gaikhorst 2008; Glen et al 2010; Orell and Morris 1994). Historically Western Quolls would have likely been important predators in the arid zone, controlling populations of invertebrate and vertebrate prey species. Trialing the release of quolls into Arid Recovery is the beginning point for detecting potential impacts that may result from returning a native predator to the ecosystem.

Koombana and Sepia have settled nicely into the Reserve, stay tuned to find out how we know what the quolls are eating! 


Written By: Kimberley Solly, Scientific and Education Officer


References:

Gaikhirst, G. (2008). Chuditch Animal Management Guidelines Perth Zoo. Perth.

Glen, A.S., Wayne, A., Maxwell, M. and Cruz, J. (2010). Comparative diets of the chuditch, a threatened marsupial carnivore, in the northern and southern jarrah forests, Western Australia. Journal of Zoology 282, 276-283.

Moseby, K.E., Read, J.L., Paton, D.C., Copley, P., Hill, B.M. and Crisp, H.M. (2011) Predation determines the outcome of ten reintroduction attempts in arid South Australia. Biological Conservation DOI information: 10.1016/j.biocon.2011.08.003, 3-SEP-2011

Orell P. and Morris K. (1994). Western Australian Wildlife Management Program No. 13.  Chuditch Recovery Plan 1992-2000 Western Australian Department of Conservation and Land Management. Wanneroo.


Bilby Tails: how to catch a bilby (Macrotis lagotis)

Admin Aridrecovery - Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The second Sunday in September is dedicated to National Bilby Day, so what better reason to tell you of our work on the Greater Bilby in the Arid Recovery Reserve. And it just so happens that last week was a busy week on the reserve fitting radio transmitters to bilby tails as part of a project looking at predator awareness in the Greater Bilby, which is being carried out by Lisa Steindler (a PhD student from UNSW as part of our ARC Project). By fitting a transmitter the bilby’s location can be found, so long as you are in a kilometre range.  Knowing where the bilbies are, in particular their burrow, is very useful for Lisa when it comes to setting up her experiments outside the bilby’s home.


However, before a bilby can be radio tracked a transmitter needs to be attached, but only once the animal has been caught -some would say this is the fun part! Here’s also where a team of volunteers comes in handy. Catching a bilby in a cage trap is quite unlikely, instead fast pairs of legs are much more effective. But why does this need a team I hear you ask? Well bilbies come out at night, therefore a person with a powerful torch, called the spotlighter, is important. It is also handy to have a driver to allow a larger area to be searched. Also, when the spotlighter sees a bilby, being able to drive alongside the running animal allows some distance to be gained on the bilby, increasing the likelihood of a catch. When the car stops you need a runner (the final member of the team) to jump out of the car and run after the bilby. Here’s where a fast runner is essential! Believe me, bilbies are surprisingly fast. But they also have the ability to rapidly zig zag from side to side, confusing the best of runners. Therefore to keep track of the bilby two good runners are often better than one! After successfully catching the bilby (using a net or by hand) the animal is then placed into a dark, fleecy bag to keep it calm. All be it fun remember we were catching bilbies for an important reason, so please do not attempt to try this at home.


Unlike the other animals on the Reserve that have radio collars, bilbies have transmitters that are fixed to the base of their tail using Elastoplast. Previous studies have found that bilbies can often get their feet stuck in collars, so tail transmitters are much safer. However, attaching the transmitters directly to the tail fur of the bilbies is not effective -sand is more likely to get stuck in the Elastoplast  and cause the transmitter to fall off, so the transmitters must be taped to the skin…This is when hairdresser Lisa comes into action (see the photos below)!


The skilled art of fitting a transmitter to a Greater Bilby's tail! Credit: Ruth Shepherd

After the bilby’s transmitter has been attached other important data such as the animal’s body condition is taken by feeling how much fat the bilby has on the rump area. Some of the fur is also collected to be sent away for analysis for cortisol levels (a measure of stress). This allows Lisa to compare stress levels between bilbies living in the expansion with the cats, and the expansion with no predators.

The final piece of data collected is behavioural data which is done when the animal is released in the place where it was caught. Animals differ in how bold or shy they are, and having one of these qualities may make them better at surviving predation (the ARC project is researching this for bettongs, bilbies and stick-nest rats on the Reserve). Bilby boldness is measured by how long it takes, and how much encouragement it takes (by giving the bilby gentle nudges every 3 seconds), before the bilby leaves the bag.

All of the radio tagged bilbies are monitored by Lisa to see their usual pattern of burrow use and behaviour and then how this changes when the bilbies are presented with a model predator or predator poo outside their burrow. Lisa will compare the responses of bilbies that have been living with cats to those that have not to see if there are any differences. This data will be incredibly useful for Arid Recovery in the long-term to test whether predator awareness of bilbies can be improved if they live with a small number of predators (cats in this case). Lisa will also be able to determine whether there are certain behaviours that we can select for when choosing release animals to make them more likely to survive when faced with real predators in reintroductions outside the reserve.

This article is in honour of the Greater Bilby, once common throughout arid Australia but now only occupies 20% of its former range. We hope through the efforts at Arid Recovery that bilbies will be able to be re-introduced into other areas of arid Australia and their numbers will begin to increase. 


Written by Ruth Shepherd, Arid Recovery and ARC Research intern.

How the Tricky Stickies got their name- How to catch a rat!

Kimberley Solly - Thursday, August 27, 2015

Greater stick-nest rats (Leporillus conditor) are best known for their ability to build themselves a home out of sticks; however their nests can be well hidden and hard to find.  For this reason the stickies have remained quite elusive to researchers at Arid Recovery since their re-introduction in 1999. 

Can you spot the ear tag on this Greater stick-nest rat? Credit: Casey Harris


Another factor that has hindered researchers getting to know our stickies are the boisterous burrowing bettongs (Bettogia lesueur). There are many more bettongs at Arid Recovery than stick-nest rats so if you set cage traps for stickies outside their nests you’ll most likely find them full of bettongs. One method that’s had more success is to fit a plywood board to the front of the cage trap with only a small hole for the rats to squeeze through. However, not to be stopped the burrowing bettongs have become exceptionally good at bouncing and knocking over the cage traps to try to get to the bait inside.

So when Bec West the Research Officer for the ARC linkage project needed to trap and fit radiocollars to at least 20 stick-nest rats she needed to think outside of the box. Bec found that the best way to catch a rat was by using a ‘ratstaurant’, a nifty excluder with an even better name! A ratstaurant looks a bit like a top hat made of 50mm chicken wire mesh and pegged into the ground with droppers. The rats can squeeze through the mesh and the bettongs can’t dig under. Place an Elliot trap with a nutritious and healthy treat of carrots inside the ratstaurant and bingo! You can catch stickies and not bettongs.


Ratstaurant monitored by remote camera. Credit: Bec West


“There’s nothing more rewarding than finding a Greater stick-nest rat in a trap, it means we’ve outwitted the bettongs” said Bec West.



A Tricky Stickie caught in the act feeding within a ratstaurant. Credit: Bec West


Twenty-one stickies have now been fitted with a unique ear tag number and a radio collar, which continues to provide more and more information on these secretive stickies. Before this study commenced 30 known nests were monitored biannually to check for activity, the list has now grown to 63 nests. Radiotracking stickies has allowed Bec and her team to discover new nests across the 60 km2 area that the Greater stick-nest rats inhabit. Previous observations on stickies found that they sheltered in penguin burrows on islands and rabbit burrows on mainland Australia (Moseby & Bice, 2004; Troughton, 1924). The stickies at Arid Recovery have been tracked to new nests, but also to new bettong warrens.  While the burrows may not show signs of stickie activity aboveground, they may be crucial for sheltering stickies over relatively cold winters. The male rats that are collared have also been roaming far and wide (up to 1.5km between shelter sites) so they have had the team out on ‘stickie-hunts’ trying to track them down. You can see why they have got the name ‘Tricky Stickies’ from the research team – hard to find, hard to trap and hard to track!

Now that the rats are collared the ARC team will set traps at each nest twice a year to better understand the survival, movement and nest dynamics of the stickies. The team are also testing their predator savviness by seeing how closely then can approach stickies at night, and how they behave when they are exposed to different predator (dingo, cat, mulga snake, quoll) scents while feeding. We wonder whether they will continue to be so ‘tricky’.

Written by Kimberley Solly, Scientific and Education Officer and Bec West, Research Officer for ARC Tackling Prey Naiveté Project

References:

Moseby K.E. and Bice J. (2004). A trial reintroduction of the Greater Stick-nest Rat (Leporillus conditor) in arid South Australia. Ecological Management and Restoration 5(2) 118-124.

Troughton ELG (1924) The Stick-nest building rats of Australia, Australian Museum Magazine, 11, 18-23. 

Getting hands-on at Science Alive!

Admin Aridrecovery - Wednesday, August 26, 2015

With national science week wrapping up for another year, what better time to look back on the fun that was Science Alive! 

  

Bigger and better than ever, 2015 marked the event’s tenth anniversary, with a bustling crowd of 26,000 science enthusiasts over a massive three days. Hosting over 50 science-related organisations, you can’t help but be entranced by some of Australia’s hottest science and technology. Keen to get in on the action, Arid Recovery was surely never going to miss the chance to enviro-talk their way through the masses.

Watched over by Wodger the wedge-tailed eagle and bobby the burrowing bettong, the cosy stall was our most interactive yet. With few Australians (and even fewer children!) getting the chance to experience our vast arid interior, we brought the red sands and their stories down with us. Do you think you could guess what animals we share our lives with at Arid Recovery from just one touch? That is exactly what thousands of intrigued minds had the chance to try as they got hands-on with our fury friends. Hidden inside six boxes where the furs of an echidna, rabbit, greater stick-nest rat, cat, kangaroo, and dingo. With a few hints, many brave young scientists guessed correctly and learnt about some of the animals we help protect.  

Not to be outdone by some of the other innovative stalls at the expo, our digital 3D landscape gave everyone the chance to explore the home of our reintroduced burrowing bettongs. By clicking on the screen, visitors could try to find the warrens (burrows) of the native rabbit-sized kangaroo. This computer reconstruction of the arid landscape is part of new research into the ecology of Arid Recovery, but also helps us engage the public with their environment. So if you just can’t get enough of science, make sure to take your family to Science Alive 2016, or even better visit us for a tour


Written by Matt Bowie, Arid Recovery volunteer & University of Adelaide Honours student

Some perspective on World Ranger Day

Kylie Piper - Friday, July 31, 2015

At the recent Threatened Species Summit in Australia there was a lot of talk about “war on cats” and an “arsenal of weapons” that was needed to “combat” this terror. Then over the past week we have posted a number of different conversations about feral cat control, and had responses from both sides of the argument venting their anger.

So on this World Ranger Day I thought I’d bring a little bit of perspective to Australia’s war for the conservation of our threatened species.




I was recently speaking with someone working with the Thin Green Line. A fantastic not for profit organisation that supports the work of rangers across the globe. Take a look at their website and read some of the stories of their real war for conservation and our use of such descriptors as “war” and “combat” will seem frivolous by comparison.

For me it is this one frightening fact that brings it home:

"In the past 10 years alone it's estimated that over 1000 park rangers have been killed, 80% of them by commercial poachers and armed militia groups."

There are species across the globe in desperate need of assistance, but the need for an orphans and widows fund to care for the families left behind by those fighting the “good cause” is to me beyond comprehension.

So on this World Ranger Day, take a look at the 2014-15 honour roll and be thankful that our conservation war is a war of words only.

And if you get the chance I say hug a ranger - cause even our guys down under need a reminder of the good work they do!

Green Army - Round 1

Kylie Piper - Friday, July 10, 2015

Over the past 6 months a team of 4 locals aged between 17-24, have been a part of the government initiative; Green Army team undertaking conservation work in Arid Recovery, Bush Heritage sites and surroundings.

       

Red Lake expansion

One of the main tasks of the Green Army has been to extend the height of the Red Lakes fence, this was completed on Thursday June 11 after many weeks of work. The original fence was approximately 4 foot high and it was our task to increase this to 6 foot, with the addition of the famous Arid Recovery Floppy Top. This was done to reduce incursions of predators in the reserve such as cats, dogs and foxes.

Buffel eradication

 Another task the team has taken on is assisting with the eradication of Buffel Grass from the town and surrounding areas. We participated in the first Buffel Busters event of the year back in February and have continued to stay on top of the noxious weed by digging it out around town.

Bush heritage sites

As part of our stay with Arid Recovery we have also formed a partnership with Bush Heritage and have spent 4 weeks at Bon Bon Station which is north of Glendambo on the Stuart Highway. Here we were involved in a wide variety of tasks including road side rest stop clean up, fence removal and more Buffel work. One of the highlights of our time at Bon Bon trip was taking part in monitoring of one of the most northern populations of the Southern Hairy Nosed Wombat.  This involved locating active burrows and installing motion sensor cameras to monitor the burrows over the 4 week period.

In our final weeks we will be making two week long trips to Boolcoomatta, another Bush Heritage site closer to Broken Hill where we will be rehabilitating severely scarred land by installing matting to increase soil profiles and trap native grass seeds.

In our time working alongside arid recovery we have been privileged to join in activities with Dr. Bec West and other arid recovery staff members, these activities include;

Bettong trapping

This included making the bait which consisted of peanut butter and oats into balls, setting and baiting a minimum of 6 traps at 5 different sites. Waiting till nightfall to check the traps was a long and anxious wait, once we were finally able to check the traps we were able to remove the bettongs and process the data such as, measure; foot length, tail width, sex, pouch for young and weight. Luckily enough we were able to handle 4 young during this process.

Stick nest rat nests location

For this gps process the team needed to conduct an emu walk over sand dunes, this technique enables more ground to be covered at a time and evenly. We were able to gps 7 nests and established that they were active, once we had these gps locations Dr. West was able to set up motion sensor cameras for ongoing monitoring.

Animal dissections

With the arid recovery education officer Perri Carter, walked us through the method of dissecting feral animals found in and around the reserve such as; Cats, wild Dogs and foxes. During this process we recorded data which included; detailing the stomach contents and identifying species found inside, weight, sex and were it was captured.

Arid Recovery Open night

As one of the community events we had to partake in, we volunteered at the arid recovery open night, inviting the community in to visit the reserve for the first time of the year on April 10th. We helped in the preparation of the night, cooking of the bbq, directing traffic and impromptu tour guiding.

Being involved in these conservation activities has been a great experience and we have learnt new skills but it has also been fun to work in a small team environment and get to know each other. 

It’s May so it must be Feral Cat Month!

Kylie Piper - Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Each year in May we have been celebrating - or should that be commiserating - feral cat month.


Feral cat month sprang from our work trying to control feral cats around the Arid Recovery Reserve, and the importance of highlighting the impact that feral cats can have on our native species.

We have just had a visit to the Arid Recovery Reserve from Gregory Andrews, the Threatened Species Commissioner, and much of the discussions had were about feral cat control.

Over the past few years we have blogged, posted and tweeted about cats and so to get this years’ feral cat month going we thought we would put some of our past efforts into one place for your reading pleasure and we will be sure to get some pics/videos and various other things over the next month for your viewing pleasure as well!

Feral cat fact sheet 

Feral facts – a resource for land owners

They eat what? 

CATastrophic impacts on the arid zone 

Cat on a leash 

The fight against ferals continues

What a success!

Kylie Piper - Saturday, August 23, 2014

It was with a huge sigh of relief that Arid Recovery staff and volunteers were able to sit back and relax last Friday evening after the last of the critters caught during annual trapping was released.  The hard work didn’t end there though. 

After sweeping out a week of red sand from the vehicles staff sat down to begin plugging the pages and pages of data into the computer.  Although we are still entering data we can give average numbers of those who were caught during the week.  Approximately 180 reptiles were pulled out of pit fall traps and nearly 500 small mammals fell for the peanut butter and oat ball baits.  Although numbers aren’t as high as last year this is most likely due to the drying off of much of the vegetation and the fact that last year’s trapping was undertaken in the middle of a mouse plague.

Probably the highlight of the reptiles caught was the desert banded snake.  With the start of the week being relatively mild this was good news for field work but not so much for the reptiles we wanted to be catching.  Towards the end of the week this specimen of desert banded snake fell into one of our pit fall traps located outside the reserve.  Usually growing to about 21 centimetres in length these guys tend to burrow just below the surface of the sand to hide.

Spinifex Hopping Mice were the most abundant mammal with a few Stripe Faced Dunnarts, Fat tailed Dunnarts, Plains Rats and a Bolam’s Mouse to mix it up a little.  “I noticed during my own processing and from a quick glance at the notes of others, that nearly none of the ‘Hoppers’ were breeding,” said ecologist Helen Crisp, “This might be in response to the conditions around them, with grasses and seeds drying off and food becoming scarce they try to control their populations.”

With the rain clouds looking to hang around the Roxby Downs region for the rest of the week, staff will be confined to the office, plugging away at the data to determine what trends, if any, are presenting over the 14 years of trapping.

From far and wide

Kylie Piper - Friday, August 22, 2014

Arriving Sunday afternoon, our volunteers were fresh faced and eager to get stuck into some work. As was pointed out yesterday evening, as we relaxed at the Reserve over a BBQ waiting for the sun to set, our “type” might seem like a bit of an odd lot. There probably aren’t a lot of people who take pleasure in starting work before the sun has risen, willing to spend a week volunteering in 40 degree heat in the desert.  A balance of volunteers, those young, and some a little more experienced in life, some who rattle off scientific names of plants with excitement in their voice, those living urban life in an interstate city and some who have experienced much of rural Australia. They hailed from the southern edges of South Australia, across to Melbourne, country Victoria and even all the way from Canberra. Either way, not matter their background or their origin, they were all keen to get their hands dirty for a week of trapping with Arid Recovery.

 

There was a slight chill in the air this morning which took us by surprise, as the preparations for Arid Recovery annual trapping begain early. It didn’t take long for the sweat to start forming as we dug into the dry hard earth of the swales, flicking rocks out the way. Rows of mesh netting were quickly erected between each of the pitfall traps. Most animals like straight lines, and so when they run into the fence they follow it along, eventually dropping into one of the 6 pit fall traps.

Elliott traps were also laid out, 15 of them in a line parallel to the line of pitfall traps. Coopex, a white insecticide is sprinkled around each of the Elliott traps to stop ants from attacking any small animals when captured inside the trap. For trap sites inside the Reserve we use excluders, large pieces of PVC pipe that have a small hole on the front, which is attached to a wooden board. This wooden board is then pegged down into the ground. This is because our Elliott traps are baited with peanut butter and oat balls, something which our bettongs love! If we didn’t peg them down and place the Elliott traps out of reach of the bettongs, they would just pick them up trying to get the bait out and set them off. With the traps set off by the bettongs we wouldn’t be catching too many small mammals.

The old saying “many hands makes light work” rang true this morning, and whilst it was a record breaking set up like last year, sites were all complete well before lunch. Volunteers and staff are now resting, before heading out tonight to bait and set their traps.

To check out more photos from today, head to our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/AridRecovery

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