Tag Archives: conservation

The Big Roo Count

Help us conserve northern Australia's iconic mammals by supporting The Big Roo Count. Image credit: David Webb

Help us conserve northern Australia’s iconic mammals by supporting The Big Roo Count. Image credit: David Webb

Ten years ago, with my wife Jen, I was finishing up four years of fieldwork in some of Australia’s most remote and spectacular habitats. We had been lucky enough to be investigating the ecology and conservation of Australia’s tropical kangaroos and wallabies, collecting first-of-its kind information on where they each occurred, how big the populations were and why each species lived in certain areas and not others.

But a lot can change in ten years.

While Jen and I have been blessed with kids, health, happiness and more, our northern mammals haven’t been so lucky. Many are disappearing; some at alarming rates. Why? fires, feral cats and climate change are all likely causes.

We have a plan that will give us our best shot at conserving Australia’s northern kangaroos and wallabies.

This winter, we’re packing our kids and our tent into a four-wheel-drive for an epic journey of scientific discovery to find out how the roos are faring ten years down the track.

We’ll repeat all the work we did a decade ago at the same field sites:

  • roo counts,
  • mapping habitat and measuring its condition,
  • and the most glamourous job of all: counting and collecting kangaroo poos to get more information on which species live where.

This time, we will also be packing exciting new technology including remotely-triggered camera traps.

It’s rare for ecologists to have long-term information like this. Our data will tell us what we are up against in the battle to conserve our native kangaroos, wallabies and other native fauna in the same region. We’ll also take every opportunity to talk with as many people as we can about the conservation issues facing northern Australia’s mammals.

“Euan Ritchie’s re-survey of kangaroos and wallabies across northern Australia 10 years on from his foundational PhD survey is fundamentally important research. Nobody but Euan can undertake the work, and I’m profoundly grateful that he’s willing to do it.” — Professor Tim Flannery

Following the outstanding success of my crowdfunded research project on Papua New Guinea’s remote mountain mammals, we are again partnering with Pozible to bring this project to life. With your generous support, we’ll be able to hire a four-wheel-drive and buy the remote camera traps we need to do this important work.

For more information, a video, regular updates and to pledge your support, visit pozible.com/bigroocount.

Please help us conserve Australia’s iconic northern kangaroos and wallabies. Please support The Big Roo Count!

Stemming the tide: progress towards resolving the causes of decline and implementing management responses for the disappearing mammal fauna of northern Australia

Authors: Mark R Ziembicki, John C Z Woinarski, Jonathan K Webb, Eric Vanderduys, Katherine Tuft, James Smith, Euan G Ritchie, Terry B Reardon, Ian J Radford, Noel Preece, Justin Perry, Brett P Murphy, Hugh McGregor, Sarah Legge, Lily Leahy, Michael J Lawes, John Kanowski, Chris N Johnson, Alex James, Anthony D Griffiths, Graeme Gillespie, Anke S K Frank, Alaric Fisher and Andrew A Burbidge.

Abstract

Recent studies at some sites in northern Australia have reported severe and rapid decline of some native mammal species, notwithstanding an environmental context (small human population size, limited habitat loss, substantial reservation extent) that should provide relative conservation security.

All of the more speciose taxonomic groups of mammals in northern Australia have some species for which the conservation status has been assessed as threatened, with 53% of dasyurid, 46% of macropod and potoroid, 33% of bandicoot and bilby, 33% of possum, 31% of rodent, and 24% of bat species being assessed as extinct, threatened or near-threatened.

This paper reviews disparate recent and ongoing studies that provide information on population trends across a broader geographic scope than the previously reported sites, and provides some information on the conservation status and trends for mammal groups (bats, larger macropods) not well sampled in previous monitoring studies. It describes some diverse approaches of studies seeking to document conservation status and trends, and of the factors that may be contributing to observed patterns of decline.

The studies reported provide some compelling evidence that predation by feral cats is implicated in the observed decline, with those impacts likely to be exacerbated by prevailing fire regimes (frequent, extensive and intense fire), by reduction in ground vegetation cover due to livestock and, in some areas, by ‘control’ of dingoes. However the impacts of dingoes may be complex, and are not yet well resolved in this area.

The relative impacts of these individual factors vary spatially (with most severe impacts in lower rainfall and less topographically rugged areas) and between different mammal species, with some species responding idiosyncratically: the most notable example is the rapid decline of the northern quoll Dasyurus hallucatus due to poisoning by the introduced cane toad Rhinella marina, which continues to spread extensively across northern Australia. The impact of disease, if any, remains unresolved.

Recovery of the native mammal fauna may be impossible in some areas. However, there are now examples of rapid recovery following threat management. Priority conservation actions include: enhanced biosecurity for important islands, establishment of a network of substantial predator exclosures, intensive fire management (aimed at increasing the extent of longer-unburnt habitat and in delivering fine scale patch burning), reduction in feral stock in conservation reserves, and acquisition for conservation purposes of some pastoral lands in areas that are significant for mammal conservation.

Ziembicki MR, Woinarski JCZ, Webb JK, Vanderduys E, Tuft K, Smith J, Ritchie EG, Reardon TB, Radford IJ, Preece N, Perry JP, Murphy BP, McGregor H, Legge S, Leahy L, Lawes MJ, Kanowski J, Johnson CN, James A, Griffiths AD, Gillespie G, Frank ASK, Fisher A, Burbidge AA (2015) Stemming the tide: progress towards resolving the causes of decline and implementing management responses for the disappearing mammal fauna of northern Australia, Therya 2015 6(1) 169-225 PDF DOI

Science Network Western Australia: Thousands predicted to die along state barrier fence

The south-west of WA is a global biodiversity hotspot. The state barrier fence has had a questionable impact on controlling pest species and extending it would likely cause more harm than good.

Read more, including reader comments, on the Science Network Western Australia website.

ABC News: ‘New mammal species’ found in PNG by Australian scientists on crowd-funded expedition

We went in with 40 crowd-funded camera traps and hopes of collecting evidence of some of Papua New Guinea’s most endangered animals. What we found were the first images of previously unrecorded mammals, including a small dorcopsulus wallaby.

Read the full story online

AM with Chris Uhlman: Australian scientist snaps previously unknown mammals in PNG

Jim Thomas from the Tenkile Conservation Alliance and I chatted with the ABC Radio’s Rachel Carbonelli this morning about our adventures in PNG, conserving tree kangaroos, and the possibility of previously undiscovered mammal species.

Transcript available via the ABC website

Belinda Christie: Increasing the success of conservation outcomes

Guest blogger: Belinda Christie

Guest blogger: Belinda Christie

I often ponder why, when we have so much scientific information about how our natural environment is deteriorating and more importantly what we can do to reverse it, does so little change? In fact it’s rapidly getting worse.

Perhaps it’s not just about what we (including scientists) know but just as importantly what we value, and how do we increase and improve the connection between information, values and actions?

Deakin University PhD candidate and guest contributor Belinda Christie offers some interesting thoughts.

Recently, I attended a public forum in Melbourne. After the forum ended, the queues forming behind the food stalls grew quickly. As I waited for my cuppa, I noticed one of the forum’s guest speakers placing his lunch order. He was a marine biologist, who just a few minutes earlier, had presented evidence for the need to increase the number of Australia’s marine national parks. I was surprised, perhaps naïvely, when I heard him order a tuna roll. Was I now more, or less, convinced by the evidence he had presented? I wasn’t sure.

When a marine ecologist orders tuna sushi...

When a marine ecologist orders tuna sushi we might start to examine the connection between the science we teach and the science we practice.

Our daily experience provides many examples of this disconnection between the professional and the personal: the smattering of nurses standing outside the hospital smoking, the personal trainer welcoming clients at the gym while snacking on a bag of potato chips, the academic writing an article about sustainability while sitting with the heater blasting in her very draughty office. There is often a disconnection between working and living the lessons of our professions. This disconnection is of particular importance in environmental science.

There is a common, but misleading, assumption made by both academics and the public that environmental sustainability ‘belongs’ to the sciences, and so, the belief follows, that students of the environmental sciences already learn much about environmental sustainability. We assume that environmental science students learn about the social and economic aspects of their field. We assume they learn about carbon footprints and sustainable lifestyles. We also assume that all ecologists, environmental managers and conservation biologists received such an education.

Research suggests otherwise. Recent research has shown that of all the disciplines, academics from the sciences are the least supportive of environment and sustainability education for all university students, rarely teach these issues in their own classes and have the most difficulty articulating the meaning of sustainability. While environmental science academics might spend time teaching their students about environmental policy and management, few actively educate their students for sustainability by cultivating the knowledge, skills and values to contribute to a more sustainable society.

But what would be the effect if all those studying environmental science courses were intentionally, and explicitly, educated for sustainability? Would this influence the success of future conservation outcomes? Would this effect be positive, negative or somewhere in between?

The answers to these questions probably hinge on your view of the purpose of science itself. You may fear that conservation recommendations will not be taken seriously unless they come from a seemingly neutral, detached and passionless scientist. You may feel that those recommendations should be, as much as possible, removed from politics, public sentiment and cultural context, so they can be seen as ‘objective’ and beyond influence.

Conversely, you may feel that perhaps the public, industry and politicians would be more likely to support a scientist’s recommendations if they are seen to follow their own advice and are a passionate advocate for change. You may feel that conservation recommendations should be aligned with the current political, economic, social and cultural landscape of the community, so that the recommendations are more likely to be accepted.

You may feel, like many others, including some of our best known and most influential scientists, that it is wise to occupy the ground between the two extremes.

Some years ago I was involved in a program which intended to decrease the occurrence of wildlife poaching in Ecuador’s Amazon rainforest. While it was informed by conservation recommendations from biologists and ecologists, the program was largely unsuccessful. The recommendations had failed to cater for the entrenched economic and cultural practices of the local community – the use, and trade, of traditional medicines harvested, often fatally, from wildlife.

While considering the social and economic context of conservation recommendations is already well practiced by many, it wasn’t until the biologists, ecologists and volunteers who had designed the program, publically pledged to adopt the recommended sustainable behaviours personally, and stopped using medicines derived from wildlife, that poaching in the area started to decrease. Without this element of ‘social diffusion’, or peer influence, the program may never have been successful. Had those biologists and ecologists learnt about sustainable living practices within the context of their own culture during their undergraduate education, perhaps the program would have been more influential earlier on.

Educating environmental science students for sustainability however, should be evidence-based, rigorous and preserve the integrity of research. It should take heed of the concerns of those who warn educating for a purpose is akin to indoctrinating students. It can do this by encouraging deep critical reflection so students can learn to assess the concept of the sustainability itself. Doing so can, and should, move an environmental science degree beyond merely providing a professional qualification, to inspiring students to lead by example and to make a measurable difference in their world.

I like to think that if the marine biologist at the forum received such an education, perhaps he would have skipped the tuna roll, and I wouldn’t have been left questioning his conservation recommendations.