Mammals galore at the AR Lab

Kylie Piper - Thursday, August 21, 2014

Today the lab was filled with mammals of a slightly larger build than those that fit in our Elliott traps. Classes from St. Barbara’s Parish Primary School came to visit the Arid Recover laboratory today to find out exactly how annual trapping works.

The students of St. Barb’s are very bright, with many of them having visited the Arid Recovery Reserve before. They were on the ball pretty quickly, understanding that annual trapping lets us see the different species that we have in the arid zone, and find out how many animals there are. Students checked a pit fall line of traps, making sure there were no cheeky sand swimmers hiding at the bottom of each of the pits. They also taught new staff member Sam about how to set an Elliott trap. It isn’t as easy as just placing the peanut butter and walking away she found out! Students searched out shady bushes to make sure the traps wouldn’t get too hot, and they were placed on flat stable ground. The tasty pieces of peanut butter and oats were pushed right to the back of the trap, making sure that any animal who wanted to get it had to step on the treadle and shut themselves in.

 

Learning how to set an Elliott trap.

Back in the air conditioned laboratory the students completed Venn diagrams, sorting out the unique features that make a mammal a mammal and a reptile a reptile. We now all know that reptiles are cold blooded, they need to warm their blood up with help from the sun, better known as ectothermic. Mammals are able to control their own body temperature from inside, and are known as endothermic. This is why Arid Recovery run their trapping during February, it is usually a bit cooler for us warm blooded mammals to get out and work, but still hot enough for the reptiles to be out and about.

Students toured through the lab, getting to meet some of the native mammals and reptiles that were captured that morning. For more photos from todays visit, check out our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/AridRecovery  

Almost time for Trapping

Kylie Piper - Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Arid Recovery begins its 17th year of Annual Trapping on Monday 10th until Friday 14th of February. Annual Trapping monitors small vertebrates inside and outside the reserve. Feral predators have a devastating impact on our small native wildlife outside the reserve. Long term monitoring reveals 6 times more mammals are caught within the Reserve.

In 2013, trapping sites were in the swales (between dunes). Volunteers and staff caught and processed 228 individuals (25 species) caught within the swales. This year, trapping sites are in the dunes. Previous years have shown a higher number of individuals in the dunes. In 2012, 938 individuals (24 species) were caught and processed. 2013 was Australia’s hottest year recorded and temperatures have not ceased, with above average temperatures this January and February. It will be interesting if the extreme temperatures have an effect on mammal and reptile populations.

Our Intern Bianca Amato prepares for her second year of Annual Trapping with Arid Recovery.

Last year during Annual Trapping it was in the mid-30s and over cast. It was perfect weather for staff and volunteers to scurry over swales looking for their favourite lizards and mammals. During 2013 Annual Trapping my team caught the only Bolam’s Mouse(Pseudomys bolami), a small native mouse which is rarely caught. Often mistaken for a House Mouse, little is known about this nocturnal creature.

This year I am excited at the opportunity to trap in dunes, hoping to catch the legless lizard, the hooded scaly-foot (Pygopus nigriceps)or even a Sand Goanna (Varanus gouldii). However, the chance of capturing over 900 individuals is a daunting possibility. 2014 will see staff and volunteers are equipped with plenty of catch bags, sunscreen and water.

Site setup for the day

Kylie Piper - Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A cool start this morning makes for a speedy first day site setup.

Our wonderful volunteers arrived late Sunday afternoon to a welcoming 40 degree plus day in Roxby Downs.  After a quick round of introductions it was time for a bbq dinner and an early night before the big week ahead of us.

The volunteers and AR staff have prepared themselves for what is predicted to be a very hot week; however, to everyone’s surprise we were treated to a balmy 27 degrees this morning with a slight cool breeze! This made the trudging up sand dunes and pit fall digging all the more enjoyable.  Four teams have been allocated 4 or 5 sites to monitor for the week, with each team having 3-4 volunteers.

“Everyone worked really well together to have all sites setup before morning tea. The cool weather this morning certainly helped, however we are all aware that it is likely to be a long hot week, with the weather predicted to be in the low to mid 40s for the duration of trapping ” says Education and Community Officer Anni Walsh.

Annual Trapping volunteer Merri uses a pelican pick to dig the pitfall line.

The teams are recuperating in the cool comfort of their air-conditioned rooms before they head back out to the Reserve to check their pit fall traps for any reptiles, as well as baiting and setting Elliot traps with peanut butter and oat balls.  The excitement will begin tomorrow morning, when everyone heads out at the crack of dawn to see what critters the warm nights have treated us too!

Keep an eye on our Facebook and Twitter pages for regular updates and photos throughout the week of annual trapping.

 

Can not get enough of Annual Trapping

Kylie Piper - Monday, August 18, 2014

Here I am, back again for my second year in a row. Even the forecast forty degree heat wasn’t a deterrent for this eager trapping enthusiast. I even managed to inspire fellow student, Scott, to join me this year with my Arid Recovery trapping stories.  Scott, having just returned from Borneo looked like something a feral cat had dragged in when I met him off the bus in Pt Augusta (he prefers ruggedly handsome). However, he was still full of enthusiasm despite his obvious sleep deprivation.  An Adelaide Uni honours student Tristan and English backpacker Brendan completed our volunteer posse.  We felt set for adventure as we rolled into town with Thin Lizzy belting out Whiskey in the Jar over the local radio.

Two days into Annual Trapping, plus forty degree temperatures and lack of sleep have yet to dampen spirits.  We beat the heat by working in the early morning and late evenings.  During the hottest part of the day we have a siesta and seek solace at the local pool.  Whilst on trapping duties teams tend pitfall and Elliott trap lines inside and outside the Reserve.  So far, our team with all bar one outside trap line, has yet to bag a mammal despite abundant mammal tracks around our trap lines.  Our Team Leader Craig’s theory is that the mammals outside the reserve are ‘smarter’ as living alongside predators possibly gives them an edge.

Annual Trapping Volunteers Barb and Scott admire a Central Knob-tailed Gecko Nephrurus levis


Still, there is three days to go and the other teams have had plenty of mammals in their traps making us hopeful.  Consistent catches of a variety of reptiles: geckos, skinks, laristas and predominately dragons keep us and on our toes and filled with anticipation for the week ahead.

Barbara Murphy and Scott Giacopini
Environmental Science students 
University of South Australia

 

Arid Insights

Kylie Piper - Sunday, August 17, 2014

Three days in to our trapping experience and we’re already starting to melt!

Despite the impending heat and exhaustion, I was still looking forward to travelling to Roxby Downs to begin my trapping experience with Arid Recovery. As a BSc (Environmental Science) graduate from Flinders University I was excited by the opportunity to get some hands on experience trapping native mammals and reptiles and processing them in the lab. However this experience didn’t turn out to be a “walk in the park” like I was expecting (sorry for the pun). “I can’t describe the intensity of my sweating” exclaims volunteer Merri from Adelaide. Merri is a full-time student at Flinders University studying BSc (Biodiversity and Conservation) who also volunteers regularly at the Granite Island Penguin Centre. We met on the first day, when we realised we would be grouped together for the week with Arid Recovery founder Katherine Moseby, and we’ve been best friends ever since!

“Volunteering here in the arid zone is a completely new experience for me, and I’m enjoying it immensely! It’s exciting to see all the wildlife inside the Reserve, and it’s great to get up close to them while trapping, especially the plump Plains Rats (Pseudomys australis)” says Merri. We were lucky enough to be given trapping sites in the Main Exclosure of the Reserve, which is teeming with native wildlife. We learnt how to set up Pitfall trap lines and Elliott traps, and have caught plenty of Spinifex Hopping Mice (Notomys alexis), Ford’s Dragons (Ctenophorus fordi) and Geckos. However, Merri and I have come to learn Elliot trapping isn’t as easy as we first thought. While both attempting to transfer a caught Spinifex Hopping Mouse from the trap into a bag, the mouse got out, and we both just sat in silence and watched it hop away. The disappointment was evident in Katherine’s eyes!

        

See more photos on our Facebook page

To encourage volunteers to take extra caution when removing animals from traps, Arid Recovery has established a points system. Basically, a mistake like losing a mammal or lizard, or leaving a gate open is worth a beer! I’m already on 12 and Merri is on 2. We thought to reduce our beer debt we would create some annual trapping related jokes, and Merri wrote a ripper!

“Why did the Mouse feel sick from the Merry-Go-Round?”

... Because of the Spinifex (Merri Pedler, 2014)

My joke wasn’t so clever.

“What do you call a Bearded Dragon that is good at rhyming?”

... A Rap-tile (har har har)

Merri and I are enjoying our trapping experience immeasurably. We’ve both agreed that the highlights so far are getting close and personal with the native mammals and reptiles, exploring the Reserve, learning new skills, and building friendships based on our mutual stir-craziness. Hopefully tomorrow we’ll catch some Dunnarts and other exciting creatures!

Merri Pedler and Patrick Pacecca

Science Students

Flinders University

Excuse me Mista is that a Lerista

Kylie Piper - Friday, August 15, 2014

A slender shimmering glimpse of this elusive, hair like creature evades us through the fine rustic red sand of the Roxby Down dunes. Its day four and I am arm-pit deep in a pit-fall hunting for the rabblerouser of a creature, the notorious Lerista as it slinks through my grasp once again. Moments pass as I tentatively reach again; will the twentieth attempt be the last attempt! “Nailed it!” This bipedial relative of the skinks is in my grip and I can finally gaze upon the three inches of alluring scales that shine in the radiance of the encroaching dawn. I look up at my volunteering buddy Emma Wilson a graduate of Environmental Sciences in a gaze of awe as we had finally found the zenith reptile of the trapping experience Lerista lebialis.  A triumphant yelp escaped my lips as I eagerly boasted to our team leader Bec West of this crowning glory. In an exultant daze we presented our remarkable find to our team leader, with huge smiles on our excited faces, only to be deflated with a retorted response, “not another flaming Lerista!” It transpires our zenith reptile would soon be found in large quantities in increasing tedium.

Site two of the day opened up on the horizon, with the success of the finding notorious lerista weighing heartily on our souls as we keenly searched the remaining pits. To call a lerista our zenith reptile is an overstatement to say the least as the pits that followed revealed some remarkable creatures of the SA desert. My personal favourites would be the members of the Gekkonidae family (the geckoes) as they were found in an array of marbled skin patterns that rivalled that of polished stone. The excitement was always tangible when one is pulled out of the pitfall as these charismatic reptiles are quite remarkable with disproportionately large eyes and quirky gait resemblant of a cockney wheeler ( apt as I myself am an English backpacker from London).

Brendan and Emma with their favourite Larista

Our time at Roxby Downs is slowly dwindling. The week so far has been unforgettable, as an English graduate in Zoology, I have thoroughly enjoyed witnessing the endemic fauna in their native environment. The opportunity to observe the array of biodiversity first hand is truly humbling, and an experience I know I will be sharing with fellow poms for years.

 

Brendan Noone (Zoology Graduate)

Emma Wilson (Environmental Science Graduate)

The week that was

Kylie Piper - Thursday, August 14, 2014

What a week it has been! The others have already had much to say about the trapping and processing, so we’re here to tell you about the tidbits and other occurrences that have happened behind-the-scenes.

Despite the fact that we’ve been targeting the trapping of small mammals, sometimes our wayward bettong friends like to make sure that we know that they’re still there. This usually happens when driving to and from field sites, when it’s an almost repetitive start-stop exercise as people have to get in and out of cars to chase away the most-trusting bettongs that decide to cross paths with the vehicle tracks on which we’re travelling. But their presence may also manifest in other ways. For example, when checking an Elliott trap, Arid Recovery intern Brad Tonkin decided that it was much too heavy when he picked it up. Upon opening the trap he discovered a none-too-comfortable bettong wedged into the corner, looking much more square-shaped than he should have been. Brad must have been enjoying his close interaction with the mammals, because he also had an encounter with a Plain’s Rat that took a nip out of the webbing between his fingers. Ouch!

We (Chris – DEWNR, Tristan – budding ecologist, Brad –AR intern and Cat – real AR ecologist) have been doing activities together all week. Outside of the trapping we have been helping in some of the other goings-on at Arid Recovery. The present authors (Chris and Tristan) have been arriving early every morning and afternoon to help organise the animals for release. Between trapping sessions, there have been other tasks set for us as volunteers. Yesterday we helped to set-up a mock pitfall line as a demonstration for some of the Year 3 & 5 Roxby Downs school children that visit every year. We were also involved in dissecting some of the cats that had recently been removed from the Dingo Pen. We found that they had been eating a whole variety of native and introduced species including house mice, rabbits, hopping mice, dunnarts, ducks, geckos, dragons, skinks, grasshoppers and snakes! It’s no wonder that they have such a detrimental effect on the native fauna around here.

 

Tristan and Chris with some baby Bearded Dragons (Pogona vitticeps) 

 

Speaking of native fauna, we’ve seen some pretty cool animals. The two most impressive recent sightings have been of a 2 m long Mulga Snake and an adult Bearded Dragon (the latter of which decided to give us a run-around by hiding underneath the car).

I (Tristan) have to be personally thankful for Chris’ impeccable driving as my deftly-placed sunglasses managed to survive ~ 13 km of bumpy dirt-track driving on the rear bumper of the 4WD. But I think that we all have to be thankful for an amazing trip.

This morning doing the routine checks of the pitfalls, I (Chris) was about to put my hand in the pitfall and thought I spotted a small snake, thanks Cat for confirming it was a sand swimmer. I would also like to thank Tristan and Brad for their experience and enthusiasm and an awesome week. Thanks guys!

We finished packing up the traps this morning and like clockwork the rain arrived and refreshed our minds, bodies and souls (how poetic). Tonight we’ll all (save Brendan) be heading to the Tavern to celebrate the rain, a successful trapping trip and new friendships!

The last of the dingo transects

Developer 2 (MM) - Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The topic of dingoes often sparks a range of opinions amongst conservationists and pastoralists. There are many uncertainties about the animal, including the exact date that the dingo arrived on Australian shores, if the dingo should be classed as a native Australian animal, and queries about the role the dingo plays in the current ecosystem. 

Arid Recovery’s Dingo Project has been investigating the detailed interaction between dingoes, cats and foxes since 2007. The Dingo Project has studied the role of dingoes in suppressing cats and foxes in arid Australia, the influence this has on prey populations, and if there is a possible net benefit for threatened species conservation.

Arid Recovery staff have been conducting track transects for the Dingo Project for five years. Covering a substantial area on foot at both the 37km² Dingo Pen and the control site at Mulgaria Station, an indication of dingo, fox, cat, rabbit and small mammal activity is derived from the presence of tracks along 200m transects. The three main habitat sites assessed are dune, swale and creek line, with ATV’s and 4wd vehicles darting from one site to the next.

The track transects are dragged in the afternoon, and then checked for the following two consecutive mornings. A count of rabbit and small mammal tracks is conducted, and predator tracks are recorded as a presence or absence.

 

 

Last week saw the completion of the final dingo track transects. Warm, calm days provided ideal weather conditions to finish the last of the data collection. Arid Recovery Education and Community Officer Anni Walsh assisted with track transects at the control site on Mulgaria Station.

“The completion of the last of the track transects for the Dingo Project is a huge success. It is always a gamble conducting such a large scale track monitoring session during this time of year, as November is generally a month of strong winds in Roxby Downs. However, the weather was kind to us and transects were completed in four days, with an initial first look at the data suggesting good results!”

Arid zone ecologist Katherine Moseby will now input the latest results alongside the five year data set, closely analysing trends in predator activity and prey abundance. The results will then be published in a peer reviewed paper.

To find out more about the Dingo Project, take a look at Katherine’s previous dingo paper Interactions between a Top Order Predator and Exotic Mesopredators in the Australian Rangelands

 

 

 

 

Little Aussie Diggers

Developer 2 (MM) - Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A recent study from Murdoch University has highlighted the relationship between the loss of Australian digging mammals and ecosystem decline, and put our threatened species in the spotlight for all the right reasons.

Our little Aussie diggers are important ‘ecosystem engineers’.  Scratching away at the surface, poking their nose in the ground, digging holes of varying depths and bull-dozing complex burrow systems all contribute to the health of the soil. These disturbances mix organic matter and bring soil nutrients to the surface, whilst trapping organic compounds and other materials in their diggings.

These little diggers also improve water infiltration which increases soil moisture, and spread important fungi across the landscape, which helps plants to increase their absorption of nutrients. This disturbance by digging mammals could possibly alter fire regimes by reducing the amount of combustible plant material within a landscape, however further research needs to be conducted to confirm this.

Although these little Aussie diggers may be small, their ability to move soil is incredible! With suggestions that a digging mammal can approximately shift a remarkable 1.8 - 3.6 tonnes of soil per kilogram of body mass in a year.

Burrowing bettong Bettongia lesueur engineering the arid zone ecosystem inside the AR Reserve.

Unfortunately, six of the 29 digging mammal species that were present 200 years ago are now extinct. The introduction of predators, land clearance and spread of disease has seen nearly all of the living ‘digger’ species show massive contractions in their range. Many have diminished from the Australian mainland completely, or now only exist in predator-proof fenced reserves similar to Arid Recovery.

Studies inside the Arid Recovery Reserve have also suggested that our ‘Big 4’ reintroduced species are much more than a cute fury face! Our own ecosystem engineers have assisted in increased recruitment of native vegetation, including mulga Acacia aneura, silver cassia Senna artemisioides and sandhill wattle Acacia ligulata. A cross fence comparison found that recruitment was significantly greater inside the Reserve compared to sites studied beyond the fence.

You can assist in promoting the important role that these Aussie diggers play in shaping ecosystems by adopting your very own Little Aussie Digger. Follow the links on the Arid Recovery website and support the great work that Arid Recovery does in protecting these incredible ecosystem engineers.

Information for this blog past was obtained from the following journal articles:

Fleming, P., Anderson, H., Prendergast, A., Bretz, M., Valentine, L., Hardy, G., 2013, Is the loss of Australian digging mammals contributing to a deterioration in ecosystem function? Mammal Review, online version, pp 1-15.

Munroe, N., Moseby, K., Read, J., 2009, The effects of browsing by feral and re-introduced native herbivores on seedling survivorship in the Australian rangelands, The Rangeland Journal, 31, pp. 417-426

 

Flocking pigeons

Developer 2 (MM) - Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Over the past few months a group of volunteers have been watching the amazing site of thousands of Flock Bronzewings swarming across the arid landscape north of the Arid Recovery Reserve.

AR's resident cinematography, Travis Hague, has put together some footage of the phenomena.

Flock Bronzewing from LonelyOakfilms on Vimeo.


For more information about Flock Bronzewings, become a member of Arid Recovery and receive the new edition of the AR newsletter, with a feature story on these amazing birds.

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