Work experience journal Frogwatch- Tadpole kits for schools’ program Procedures for the loan of a tadpole kit to schools through the Ginninderra Catchment group (GCG)

Qinyan Liu

The purpose of the program:

It is an education activity for young and old by caring for tadpoles and watching them turn into frogs. Furthermore, the program is also useful for scientific reasons, because there are much unknown about dramatic population declines for frogs in worldwide. For protecting the frogs, ACT government implement a policy that removing and displacing tadpoles and frogs from the wild without a specific license is illegal. However, there are low viability for tadpoles in the nature and tadpoles are hard to turn into frogs. The frogwatch ACT and Region program offers the loan of a complete Tadpole kit for students that is to overcome this dilemma. Participating ACT schools are required to pay $50 loan fee for per kit towards the administration costs and a $50 deposit, which will be returned after the complete return of the kit in accordance with these procedures.

 Procedure:

My work is that setting and preparing for tadpole kit picked up. (1). There are 60 kits need to be prepared. Each tadpole kit contains: tadpole care instruction booklet, tadpole food (bag of spirulina), 1 bottle with water purifier, 1 mesh/cotton bag with gravel, 1 bucket, 1 medium size plastic tank with lid, and 1 non-scratch sponge.(2). Each Ziploc bag with 6-8 tadpoles with 1L water, which is half tape water and half tank water (because lack up enough tank water and it is temporary habitat for tadpoles in the Ziploc bag). For ensuring all students observed different period tadpoles, I have to put 3-4 1 week tadpoles and 2 weeks tadpoles in each Ziploc bag. Additionally, the sticky watergrass feed on tadpoles and also need to be put in the Ziploc bag.(3). People have ordered and payed the tadpoles kit online. The mission is that writing down the number order on the document paper, which is accordance with the label numbers on the kits for returning. The person collecting the kits will be required to sign a document stating that the tadpole kit was complete and in good working order. The person signing the document is held responsible for the welfare of the animals and the timely return of the animals and the cleaned equipment.

Figure 1 prepared tadpole kits

 Frogs Species:

Spotted Grass Frog (Limndynostes tasmaniensis)

Appearance: It has a neatly blotched appearance of light and dark markings and is moderately large in size (up to about 5 cm). Some individuals have a distinctive red or orange stripe down the centre of the back. A line of white glandular tissue occurs from beneath the eye to the back of the leg.

Status: An abundant species with widespread distribution.

Mating call: A “kuku k uk uk”- a bit like a toy machine gun. Male frogs call whilst floating in the water. Calls from September to March.

Habitat: Lowland rivers, Lowland creeks, Swamps, farm dams and lakes. Asscociated with standing waters, including roadside ditches, marshes, swamps, lakes and ponds. They prefer situations where there is considerable flooded vegetation such as tussocks and sedges. During dry weather, they shelter in deep cracks in the clays of dry wetlands, beneath large logs and in the base of grass tussocks.

Figure 2. Two weeks tadpoles

 

Figure 3. the adult spotted grass frog

Issue:

Australia has one of the most diverse frog assemblages in the world over 200 species. However, since the 1980s, there are dramatic population declines in some Australian frog species have been reported. Scientists speculate the reasons for the population declines of frogs is pollution of waterway, loss of habitat, global warming, acid rain, widespread use of chemicals and spread of the chytrid fungus. Even if spotted grass frogs are not endangered and still considered common in the ACT, the population of spotted grass frogs can be threatened by the very activities we undertake in our backyards and surrounding nature reserves. So, it is necessary for protection, especially building up the frog friendly habitat.

 

The reason for creating a frog friendly habitat:

Firstly, frogs are a valuable asset to the environment. Frogs and tadpoles are significant factors linking in the food chain of many ecosystems, e.g. helping control insect pet population, control levels of algae in pond.

 

How to create a frog friendly habitat?

Frogs need shelter, food and a place to breed. Most frogs require a source of moisture to breed. Suburban ponds can be built. When we create the suburban ponds, we also need to create shallow edges to allow frogs to enter and exist. Additionally, creating flat shelves for frogs to sit on and places to hide from predators in the water and around the pond, such as rocks, submerged logs and potted aquatic plants. We also should locate the area away from sprinkler systems, pesticides or fertilisers used area. Because we have to keep the chemical and toxin free in the frog habitat. The tap water contains chlorine, which is harmful to tadpoles and frogs. Furthermore, the locate the habitat where it will receive rainwater runoff such as a downpipe from roof.

On the other hand, do not handle frogs, because their skin is for absorbing moisture and chemicals from their immediate environment. Even if soaps, detergents or other chemicals are safe for human, they might be harmful for frogs. Additionally, it is best to not have fish in the tadpoles’ pond at all, as fishes are always prey the tadpoles.

In the natural environment, we cannot translocate the species from one place to another place that is illegal in Australia, whatever fishes or grogs. The invasive species also cannot use in the habitat, because they will prey tadpoles and exaggerated the situations of frogs.

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Citizen science: an answer for bird conservation in urban China?

By Shiyao Zhong

On 15-17 Jan 2016, an International Black-faced Spoonbill Census was conducted in various locations in East and Southeast Asia. I participated to one of the counting sessions in Shenzhen Bay (Southern China), which is one of the hotspots to see these gorgeous birds. The good news is the global population of Black-faced Spoonbill has raised to 3,356, which is remarkable considering there were only 500 left in the wild 16 years ago [1]. Despite the important findings, one thing that I am particularly interested about this census is the role of the citizen in bird monitoring.

Black-faced spoonbill, source: WWF Hong Kong [2].

The Black-faced Spoonbill census is not the only bird monitoring project that benefits from citizen participation. China Coastal Waterbird Census, a monthly survey covering 13 coastal intertidal wetlands along the east coast, has been conducted for over 10 years involving more than 150 volunteers [3]. These projects are important as the east-southeast of China composes part of the East Asian-Australasian Flyway [4], which is one of the great migration paths for migratory birds. However, it happens that massive land reclamation and intensive urbanization has been continuous in the area for decades [5].

Landsat images: Bohai Bay, China, 1992 (L) and 2012 (R). Source: Daily mail Australia [6].

Landsat images: Shenzhen, China, 1998 (L) and 2008 (R). Source: Daily mail Australia [6].

So, how can citizen science projects benefit the bird conservation?

Think about the temporal and spatial scale of a bird conservation project like China Coastal Waterbird Census, an intensive human resource is needed. The knowledge of bird identification and ecological survey methods is not likely to be trained in short-term, therefore citizens that have the knowledge and experience, and more importantly, actively participate in the project is crucial. In many main cities, bird societies organized by citizens are closely connected to conservation NGOs and experts. They provide training to their members, organize bird watching events and even public education programmes. Citizen science is not only helping the bird monitoring, it is also promoting the science communication and public education on the environmental issues.

Not limiting to specific projects, the detecting scale of citizen science is even wider. For example, with limiting resources, bird monitoring projects generally only include sensitive or indicator species and restricted area. Moreover, thanks to the new technology, e-bird guides, and bird mapping apps (e.g. eBird) [7] have been developed. These applications are powerful tools for data collection, individuals can easily access to bird guides and GPS locators. The observation information (species, abundance, and location) is connected to a regional or even global database, which is valuable for bird conservation. The citizens can also help to keep an eye on illegal activities that are harmful to habitats and birds.

In long term, the rise of public awareness on bird protection may change the way that we construct the urban area. In recent years, the area of green space and artificial wetlands in the urban area is increasing [8]. Does this mean there is a bright future for birds conservation? Let’s not forget the major cause of the decline of bird population and biodiversity in China- habitats loss. Citizen science could be helpful, but stopping the habitat loss is the key.

Reference:

  1. Yat-tung Yu, 2016, Result of the International Black-faced Spoonbill Census 2016, EAAFP web:http://www.eaaflyway.net/result-of-the-international-black-faced-spoonbill-census-2016/.
  2. Black-faced Spoonbill, WWF, website: https://www.wwf.org.hk/en/reslib/species/blkfacespoonbill/.
  3. Ed Parnell, 2016, Decade-long Citizen Science project counts China’s waterbirds, Birdlife International, Asia web:http://www.birdlife.org/asia/news/decade-long-citizen-science-project-counts-china%E2%80%99s-waterbirds.
  4. Department of the Environment and Energy, Australia Government, 2008, Migratory Shorebirds of the East Asian – Australasian Flyway: Population estimates and internationally important sites, web: http://www.environment.gov.au/resource/migratory-shorebirds-east-asian-australasian-flyway-population-estimates-and.
  5. Schneider, A., Mertes, C.M., Tatem, A.J., Tan, B., Sulla-Menashe, D., Graves, S.J., Patel, N.N., Horton, J.A., Gaughan, A.E., Rollo, J.T. and Schelly, I.H., 2015. A new urban landscape in East-Southeast Asia, 2000–2010. Environmental Research Letters10(3), p.034002.
  6. Phil Vinter, 2012, the changing face of Earth: Dramatic high-resolution satellite images show how the world has been transformed over the last four decades, Daily mail web: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2177202/The-changing-face-Earth-Dramatic-high-resolution-satellite-images-world-changed-decades.html
  7. eBird, China, website:http://ebird.org/ebird/country/CN?yr=cur.
  8. Zhou, X. and Parves Rana, M., 2012. Social benefits of urban green space: A conceptual framework of valuation and accessibility measurements. Management of Environmental Quality: An International Journal23(2), pp.173-189.

 

 

 

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Early bird catches the worm

Introduction:

On a chilly October morning, a group of students and I accompanied Dr. Phillip Gibbons on a bird watch that’s a part of an ongoing 6-year longitudinal study that examines the value of mature trees for wildlife. Canberra was named Australia’s 2nd largest city undergoing development in 2016, and thus various new suburbs are being built all around Canberra. As the urbanization increases demands for space and aesthetically pleasing neighborhoods also increase. Hence, lands are cleared to make space and older more mature trees are usually taken down because they’re not very pleasing to the eye.

The problem?

Canberra has a high abundance and variety of bird species, that depend on tree’s for basic needs such as a source of food, foraging, nesting, and most importantly older tree’s with hollows as some bird species are hollow-nesting birds. Martin and McIntyre (2007) found that the most common response by birds to grazing is that there was a high level of species absence in the presence of grazing, and high species abundance under lower levels of grazing. The aim of this study was to determine the ways birds made use of different types of trees.

Setting the scene:

At 6:30am, the team and I set out to a private property in the Kinlyside suburb and surveyed 4 different trees on the property, two trees that were located between two residential properties in Nicholls, and lastly one tree that was situated opposite to a roundabout in Ngunnawal. The trees were a combination of large, old and small trees. The trees were observed at 20 minute intervals each, and the birds species, time at which it the bird moved to the tree, the type of tree the bird had moved from, the actions the bird performed (e.g.; foraged, ate, used hollows, what type and angle of branch it landed on), and the direction and tree type the bird left to.

The first tree surveyed in the morning, it was a relatively old tree with lots of hollows

This work experience opportunity directly relates to the concept of threats to biodiversity through habitat loss which we learnt in week four. The biodiversity of bird species in Canberra is at threat due to the constant land clearing for development. The species-area curve concept was evident through this concept, a higher number of birds were measured in the private properties for example compared to the tree adjacent to the roundabout and in developed suburbs, area’s where species had a higher habitat area (defined by number of trees in the area) the higher the number of species present.

The observed tree that was adjacent to a roundabout, this was a relatively medium sized tree with no hollows. It also had no interaction with any bird species, which reiterates the species-area curve concept

Future directions:

Through this work experience opportunity, I experienced first-hand not just the concepts covered throughout this course, but also the use of different methodology. As an aspiring environmental conservationist, being a part of a conservation research study has been eye-opening not just to how studies are conducted, but to issues that may arise during the process as well. During the surveying process, there was one tree in specific that we could not measure on that day, which had been a part of the longitudinal study for several of years. The tree was now a part of a developmental site for a new suburb, and that was an issue as it meant that reaching the tree to observe its species interaction was not possible, which in turn would affect the outcome of the study as yearly data is needed. My personal take on what should be done in order to minimize habitat loss due to urbanization in Canberra is through getting communities involved, as many of the decision making (e.g. taking down older trees because they’re not seen as aesthetically pleasing) are made in order to satisfy the communities that will be residing in those suburbs. Setting up meetings with community councils to explain the importance of maintaining these habitats is essential, and outlining the benefits of having more green spaces and trees in neighborhoods. In Melbourne for example, it was found that a 5% fall in urban tree cover can account for a 1-2C rise in temperatures (The Conversation, 2017), such facts and figures may be enough to sway some local communities into opposing the clearing out of trees at the extent that is currently being carried out. In conclusion, I personally feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to be a part of this long-term study, not everyone gets to go out on the field and carry out survey’s with world class researchers and get an insight into their formidable knowledge- so lastly, I would like to thank Dr. Phillip Gibbons for this wonderful and rewarding experience.

Author:

U5732197, Noora Albalooshi

References:

MARTIN, T. and McINTYRE, S. (2007). Impacts of Livestock Grazing and Tree Clearing on Birds of Woodland and Riparian Habitats. Conservation Biology, 21(2), pp.504-514.

The Conversation. (2017). Fewer trees leave the outer suburbs out in the heat. [online] Available at: https://theconversation.com/fewer-trees-leave-the-outer-suburbs-out-in-the-heat-33299 [Accessed 12 Oct. 2017].

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This is How We Roll! Feat. Pink-tailed Worm-lizard (Aprasia parapulchella)

Image 1: Pink-tailed Worm-lizard (Aprasia parapulchella)

Introduction

It is crucial to have appropriate conservation practices in place to minimise biodiversity loss and ensure that species are protected for generations to come.  Ecological restoration is one of the ways to achieve this. In the ACT region, efforts are being made to conserve particularly threatened species through habitat restoration and I was fortunate enough to learn about one of them.

During Spring 2017, Hui and I ventured out with ecologist Richard Milner, of the ACT Parks and Conservation Service, into the Molonglo River Reserve west of Coppins Crossing Road (Map 1).  Braving the heat, we rolled over hundreds of football-sized rocks to try and get a glimpse of the elusive Pink-tailed Worm-lizard (Aprasia parapulchella), a species listed as vulnerable in the ACT and under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) (“Conservation Advice A. parapulchella,” 2015).

Map 1: Map of the protected areas of the Pink-tailed Worm-lizard habitat in the Molonglo River Reserve (ACT Govt., 2013)

Species Profile

The Pink-tailed Worm-lizard is a small legless lizard species that can grow to approximately 25cm in length (“Conservation Advice A. parapulchella,” 2015).  It is found in the native rocky grasslands across South-East Australia (Reinfrank, 2015) and has a fragmented distribution (“Conservation Advice A. parapulchella,” 2015).  The species is found in the ACT along the Murrumbidgee and Molonglo River corridors (Map 1) (Osborne and Wong, 2013).  Interestingly the species co-habits the burrows of ants (Image 2) and feeds on their eggs and larvae (Image 3) (Wong et al., 2011).  It is unknown what the ants gain from the co-habitation.  Richard predicts that the lizard produces a chemical signal that benefits the ants in some way.  The Pink-tailed Worm-lizard plays an important ecosystem role as an indicator of healthy sites. Sites which contain the species often support a variety of other reptiles such as lizards and snakes (Osborne and Wong, 2013).  It is therefore important to conserve their habitat in order to protect these biodiversity hotspots.

Image 2: Pink-tailed Worm-lizard found in co-habitation with ants

Image 3: Ants and their eggs and larvae found under a rock

Causes of Decline

Population growth and economic growth have been the overarching drivers of biodiversity loss for the Pink-tailed Worm-lizard.  These drivers have instigated problems such as habitat degradation and habitat fragmentation. These problems are a direct result of land clearing and rock removal which transformed the native grasslands into land suitable for livestock grazing and agricultural intensification processes (McDougall et al., 2016).  This landscape alteration process also exacerbated weed invasion. For it enabled exotic species such as African lovegrass (Eragrostis curvula) and Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) (Image 4)(McDougall et al., 2016) to outcompete the native species, such as Kangaroo grass (Themeda triandra) necessary for Pink-tailed Worm lizard habitat (“Conservation Advice A. parapulchella,” 2015).  

Image 4: Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) invading Pink-tailed Worm-lizard habitat

Altered fire regimes and habitat loss due to urban development are other factors which have contributed to the species decline.  As thousands of hectares of native grassland are being sacrificed for the development of suburbs such as Coombs (Image 5).  Climate change is also of imminent concern as the Pink-tailed Worm-lizard’s specific habitat and dietary requirements make it sensitive to environmental change (Wong et al., 2011).  The species prefers temperatures of around 18-25 degrees Celcius,  and with the rise of global temperatures, this could have dire consequences for the lizard.

Image 5: Urban development encroaching the reserve

Habitat Restoration Project

After the 2003 bushfires majority of the Pink-tailed Worm-lizard habitat was destroyed.  The habitat restoration project, which began in 2014, is being undertaken by the ACT Parks and Conservation Service. It has seen the planting of native grasses, the placement of hundreds of rocks (Image 6) and some brick transects (Image 7) in the Molonglo River Reserve to improve the habitat for the Pink-tailed Worm-lizard.  There are two projects being undertaken: the first to improve habitat connectivity and the second to reduce the fire load (ACT government, 2013).  The main objective of these two projects is to offset the impacts of the encroaching urban development by helping to protect and increase the lizard species’ numbers in the reserve (ACT Government, 2013).

Image 6: Restored Pink-tailed Worm-lizard rock habitat

Image 7: Red house brick transect

To improve habitat connectivity, eleven islands of rock had been set up across the landscape.  Richard explained that the Pink-tailed Worm-lizard had successfully recolonised nine out of the eleven islands since the project began.  It was our job to see whether the species had recolonised the remaining two. After rolling rocks for what seemed like an eternity, our search turned out to be fruitful: the species had indeed recolonised the final two islands! We not only detected their presence from finding their skins (Image 8) but to our delight, were also lucky enough to catch sight of the legless lizard themselves! It is hoped that in the next ten years the four genetically distinct populations will interbreed across the eleven islands to overcome their fragmented dispersal and increase their genetic diversity.

Image 8: Pink-tailed Worm-lizard skin found under a rock

Red house bricks are being used to test whether the Pink-tailed Worm-lizard can survive under different materials other than rocks.  As the rock-rolling process, which is required to monitor the species, is potentially intrusive and threatening to them.  The brick has been found to be the most uniform option with similar thermal properties to the rocks and thus seems to be the most suitable substitute for them.   Richard says that if the bricks are found to have less of an impact than the rocks, then they could become the national guidelines for conserving the species.  We observed the Pink-tailed Worm-lizard (Image 9) and it’s skin (Image 10) under the bricks proving that they are a successful substitute for rocks.

Image 9: Pink-tailed Worm lizard found under a brick

Image 10: Pink-tailed Worm-lizard skin found on a brick

For the fuel management project, rocks have been strategically placed at the edge of the reserve to create a barrier between the proposed urban development and the Pink-tailed Worm-lizard habitat (ACT Government, 2013).

Conclusion

Although sore from the rock rolling, I was very glad that we had the opportunity to see the threatened Pink-tailed Worm-lizard and play a small role in assisting with their monitoring.

There seems to be a bitter-sweet trade-off between conserving the Pink-tailed Worm-lizard and meeting economic demands: urban development.  For without the urban development, the lizard would not have received the amount of attention it has for it’s conservation and habitat restoration.  One hopes that the conservation efforts made will continue to ensure the survival of this vital species.

Image 11: Richard Milner holding a Pink-tail Worm-lizard

I would like to thank Richard Milner for his time and effort taken to give us an insight into this fascinating species.  A truly unforgettable experience!

9 hours field work was undertaken during Spring 2017 on 22nd September 10.30am – 3.30pm and 6th October 9.30am – 1.30pm

Karina Carter

References

ACT Government, 2013, ‘Molonglo Adaptive Management Strategy’. Available at: http://www.tccs.act.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/588045/Molonglo-Adaptive-Management-Strategy.pdf

McDougall, A, Milner, R, N, C, Driscoll, D, A, and Smith, A, L, 2016, ‘Restoration rocks: integrating abiotic and biotic habitat restoration to conserve threatened species and reduce fire fuel load’, Biodiversity and conservation, 25(8):1529-1542. Available at: http://smithecology.org/uploads/3/9/4/6/3946018/mcdougall_etal_2016_biodiversconserv_restoration_rocks.pdf

Osborne, W, and Wong, D, 2013, ‘The extent of habitat for the vulnerable Pink-tailed Worm Lizard (Aprasia parapulchella) in the West Belconnen – Ginninderra Creek investigation area – confirmatory distribution surveys and mapping’, Institute for Applied Ecology, University of Canberra. Available at: http://ginninderry.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Osborne-W.-Wong-D.-2013-Pink-tailed-worm-lizard-study.pdf

Reinfrank, A, 2015, ‘Australia’s largest pink-tailed worm-lizard habitat restoration project underway to save threatened species’, ABC News. Available at: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-05-09/pink-tailed-worm-lizard-habitat-restoration/6457362

Threatened Species Scientific Committee (TSSC), 2015, ‘Approved Conservation Advice for Aprasia parapulchella (pink-tailed worm-lizard)’, Canberra: Department of the Environment. Available at: http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/species/pubs/1665-conservation-advice-01102015.pdf.

Wong, D, Jones, S, Osborne, W, S, Brown, G, Robertson, P, Michael, D & Geoffrey, K, 2011, ‘The life history and ecology of the Pink-tailed Worm-lizard Aprasia parapulchella Kluge – a review’, Australian Zoologist, 35(4):927-940. Available at: http://publications.rzsnsw.org.au/doi/pdf/10.7882/AZ.2011.045

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Helping the Australian Bush survive invasive honeysuckle

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An Environmental science degree is different at every university. Studying at the ANU I am very lucky to be exposed to all different kinds of teaching, from classroom theory to working in the field and everything in between. In saying this, the degree is so broad that there remain to be infinite opportunities and experiences which we as students are sent out on our own to find.

At ANU I am a part of a society called ANU Intrepid Landcare and this group provides opportunities for students from all academic backgrounds to participate in Landcare and conservation work. I took this opportunity to do some biodiversity conservation. A family in Araluen has a property which is ecologically significant as it is home to several native Australian species. On the property, there are various Eucalypts and lots of native understorey, as well as other native trees and plants. However, the property also plays host to an overwhelming amount of honeysuckle.

I learnt a lot about this species from our host family. They taught me, from their own experience, all about the weed itself and what they found to be the best methods for removal.

Japanese honeysuckle is a deciduous climbing weed and is capable of outcompeting a majority of native Australia vegetation. The plant is an invasive species, and having learnt about the significance of invasive species in Phil Gibbon’s course Biodiversity Conservation, the importance of its removal was clear. If the weed outcompetes native vegetation this will lead to further spreading of the weed, habitat loss for native species, as well as loss of food and risk to animals and humans as the weed can be slightly poisonous. This weed in particular poses a high risk as it can reshoot from any point along its stem and hence simply cutting it is not effective. In the woodland and forest landscape at the property our host family have done an amazing job of fighting the weed and keeping its impact low, however, it was still very present and that is why we were there – to help remove it! First thing was first though: what does honeysuckle look like? None of us actually knew, and in order to be able to remove it, learning was vital.

In order to learn, we were taken out into a patch of the landscape where the weed was prominent and each had a look at the plant at different stages of growth. We were primarily looking for sprouts as it is easiest to cut off at a young age, although there were patches of significant growth which I can most accurately describe as a giant birds nest.

This is an example of the dense honeysuckle.

Just about the whole ground cover in this area was honeysuckle!

Once we were able to identify the weed we were introduced to the Bradley Method of weeding. More information about the Bradley Method can be found here –

http://www.uppershoalhavenlandcare.com.au/biodiversity/bush-regeneration/ – but it basically involves starting from the outside, i.e. the areas of vegetation which are not too affected, and working your way in towards the areas of dense weeds. This method is useful when tackling an area that is already host to established weeds.

Once all the talking was out of the way, the best way to properly learn what we had to do was to start doing it. Splitting in to groups to work on different sides of the site we made a start attacking the weed. While the Bradley method defines the direction in which we would work, the actual nature of the work varied from cutting and poisoning to simply pulling, and pulling, and pulling on the weed until we eventually found the end and could pull it out of the ground. With these especially long pieces of the weed we would roll them up and hang them on surrounding trees. It was a matter of practicality but it gave the whole landscape a kind of spooky feel to it.

The weeds felt endless, especially in the most dense patches it felt like we were weeding for hours and making no progress. It was only when we looked back on photos of the site before we had started that we saw how much of an impact we had made.

Following our hard work, our wonderful hosts rewarded us with afternoon tea and a bonfire, which also provided a great opportunity for reflection. We were able to talk to our peers and our hosts and discuss what we had achieved over the day and what impact we had had.

During this time, a few key take home points came to mind. One of our hosts pointed out to us that without the help of Intrepid Landcare what we achieved would have taken months. This really highlights the importance of coming together and working hard for conservation. If the hours aren’t put in in the field, no matter how many policies are changed or management plans are released, change will not happen.

Another was how much I learnt in the field. I have never been incapable of learning in the classroom, although I have found that both on field trips and in this context I have learnt so much more from hands on work, and from putting the theory in to practice. This is a point that I would like to highlight. It makes such a difference having the experience of completing hands on work in the field and can really positively influence  decision making in the classroom and office, and so with this in mind I would recommend to everyone working in environmental science to every now and then put down the pen and paper (or more aptly for 2017, close your laptop) and go outside and get your hands dirty.

 

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Tidbinbilla Wildlife TEam

Ex-Situ conservation Tidbinbilla

Depite its proximity, transport constraints meant that I had not visited Tidbinbilla since I began studying at ANU, however the prospect of work experience and exposure to the incredible native diversity so close to home was too good to pass up. Working alongside the Wildlife Team, was an informative behind the scenes look at ex-situ conservation in an Australian context. Having taken part in a decentralized breeding program for the Critically Endangered Lemur Leaf Frog back at home, I was especially excited to be involved with the breeding program for the Northern Corroboree Frog (Pseudophryne pengilleyi). As I was fortunate enough to experience however, the duties of Tidbinbilla’s Wildlife team are far from monofocused, ranging from felling trees to delicately sorting froglets all in the span of a few hours.

Figure 1: Koalas breed without much help within the park (author photo)

Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve

Tidbinbilla nature reserve is one of the naturally and historically richest conservation areas in the Canberra region, conserving an integral part of the ACT’s threatened subalpine landscapes (Act Government, 2017). In addition to the unique ecological communities protected within its boundaries, Tidbinbilla also protects important Aboriginal and European historical sites. Following extensive damage to the park during the 2003 wildfires, an additional focus was placed on ex-situ conservation and captive breeding of three critically endangered species or subspecies, the Northern Corroboree Frog (Pseudophryne pengilleyi), Southern Brush Tailed Rock Wallaby (Petrogale penicillata), and Eastern Bettong (Bettongia gaimardi). While fire exacted a toll on the landscape, it also created a management opportunity to redevelop infrastructure to suit its revised goals.To a greater extent than many of the regions conservation areas, public involvement, education and outreach is a key part of Tidbinbilla’s management. Not only does it boast guided activities, trails and an interesting information centre but it also actively engages with community volunteers.

Figure 2: Northern Corroboree Frogs (Pseudophryne pengilleyi), in growout tank (Author photo)

Wildlife Team- Why captive breeding?

At Tidbinbilla I worked alongside the Wildlife Team, who are in charge of managing the captive breeding programs in the park. While captive breeding has not always been a key focus in the park, its key flagship projects have been immensely successful. The ex-situ conservation program here serves both as an insurance population, but also to directly supply reintroduction efforts (Zippel et al. 2011).

All three species, but especially the Southern Brush Tailed Rock Wallaby and the Northern Corroboree Frog, are notable not only for their extremely limited geographical range but small population sizes (IUCN, 2017). This makes wild populations especially vulnerable to disturbances, either human induced or natural such as fire (Piggott et al. 2005) . If fire destroys their limited habitats, these species could quickly be lost forever. A poignant example threat is the Chytrid fungus, which has decimated P. pengilleyi populations throughout its range (Zippel et al. 2011). Maintaining a stable breeding population in captivity, can serve as an insurance policy for the eventuality of extinction in the wild, much the same way as the Tasmanian population of the Eastern Bettong served as an insurance for the now extinct mainland population (Short et al. 1992). With 70% of the global P. penicillata population, the largest population of P. pengilleyi and a diverse thriving group of B. gaimardi, Tidbinbilla is the cornerstone of their ex-situ conservation (ACT Government 2017.

Figure 3: Pseudophryne pengilleyi breeding setup (Author photo)

In captivity, high survival rates enable reintroduction where suitable. These reintroductions can bolster natural populations, further improving the odds of their continuing survival (Griffiths and Pavajeau, 2008). So far, reintroduction of all three species has been successful (ACT Government 2017). Reintroductions at Mulligans Flat have seen Bettongs roaming the natural landscape of the ACT for the first time in over 100 years (ibid). In a critical success, as of last season there is evidence that frogs born at Tidbinbilla and released into Namadgi have been able to successfully survive, and even breed in the wild.
AN important question in populations this small is genetic sustainability (Frankham, 1995), and careful work at Tidbinbilla has been able to maintain functional genetic diversity. By introducing these new species into the wild populations, the gene pool can expand and become more resilient, hopefully bettering their chances of their survival (Fraser, 2008). These species and projects are so important not only for how rare they are, but also for what good prospects these conservation efforts are showing.

The Experience

A day in the life of a Wildlife Team member is not just directed at a singular species, but rather adapts to the needs of the park as a whole. The day began with cleaning and maintenance of Wallaby habitats. In the breeding pens, the small enclosure size means that droppings need to be removed daily. Then, we had to gather new food for the Koala population. Due to their fussy feeding habits, and preference for the youngest leaf tips this didn’t involve picking leaves, but rather the sawing down of over a dozen young trees. The paradoxical experience of quasi-logging within a protected area really made me think about how animal conservation, and landscape conservation can come to be at odds. One of the most notable features of the Koala habitat was an overabundance of rather tame Potoroos. While all but absent from the park proper, their population exploded within predator proof areas. This showed the devastating effects of invasive species predation, even when programs are in place to cull invasives. We later gave individual attention to the onsite reptile population before moving on to the Corroboree breeding center.

Figure 4: Two days’ worth of Koala Food (author photo)

Huge attention is paid to the genetic viability of the frog population, with each brood being separated and classified. The seriousness of this project for the survival of the species was evidenced by the numerous alarms, sirens and locks all protecting the population form intrusion or environmental fluctuation. We transferred newly metamorphosed froglets into their new grow-out enclosures. One of the most amazing things was the level of detail involved to ensure their health. Everything from the slant of the gravel, position and shape of the natural shelters, to the effect of proximity to the air conditioner on ambient humidity was accounted for. This delicate work was followed by an informative talk with one of the indigenous rangers, Kai, who not only contextualized the history of the landscape, but showed the importance of public education for the survival of the park.

Working at Tidbinbilla was eye opening, and valuable giving me an insight into how dynamic wildlife work can be. It demonstrated the conflicts between species, landscape and historical conservation and showed how important public interface is for all three, something I had not previously given enough thought. Not only did I learn practical skills, but conversations with staff gave valuable insights into researching Biodiversity as I explore the next steps in my academic life. And as a perfect way to round off, I was able to finish the day with my first sighting of a wild platypus, making me think again how important biodiversity is to the value of a landscape.

Work Date: 12/10/17 from 7:30 to 16:00.

Word Count: 1056

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Frankham, R. (2013). Conservation Genetics. Annual Review of Genetics, 25(1), pp.301-307.
Fraser, D. (2008). How well can captive breeding programs conserve biodiversity? A review of salmonids. Evolutionary Applications, 7(2), pp.23-28.

Griffiths, R. and Pavajeau, L. (2008). Captive Breeding, Reintroduction, and the Conservation of Amphibians. Conservation Biology, 22(4), pp.852-861.

Murray, J., Low Choy, S., McAlpine, C., Possingham, H. and Goldizen, A. (2008). The importance of ecological scale for wildlife conservation in naturally fragmented environments: A case study of the brush-tailed rock-wallaby (Petrogale penicillata). Biological Conservation, 141(1), pp.7-22.

PIGGOTT, M., BANKS, S., STONE, N., BANFFY, C. and TAYLOR, A. (2005). Estimating population size of endangered brush-tailed rock-wallaby (Petrogale penicillata) colonies using faecal DNA. Molecular Ecology, 15(1), pp.81-91.

Short, J., Bradshaw, S., Giles, J., Prince, R. and Wilson, G. (1992). Reintroduction of macropods (Marsupialia: Macropodoidea) in Australia—A review. Biological Conservation, 62(3), pp.189-204.

Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve. (2017). Wildlife Conservation. [online] Available at: https://www.tidbinbilla.act.gov.au/ [Accessed 13 Oct. 2017].

Zippel, K., Johnson, K., Gagliardo, R. and Gibson, R. (2011). THE AMPHIBIAN ARK: A GLOBAL COMMUNITY FOR EX SITU CONSERVATION OF AMPHIBIANS. Herpetological Conservation and Biology, 6(3), pp.340-352.

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Experiencing Sustainability in the ACT

In order to not only educate myself on actions to protect biodiversity, I also used this opportunity to gain work experience to immerse myself in the sustainable community where I’m residing. In this past semester, I worked with the Bruce Hall Sustainable Committee in efforts to educate the college on sustainable awareness as well as an activity to build a garden on our quad. I also tagged along with Dr Phil Gibbons to partake in an 6- year ongoing bird survey in the ACT.

Bringing Sustainability Into the Community 

On September 18th, the Bruce Hall Sustainability Subcommittee hosted a talk and an activity to encourage sustainable awareness in a college setting. Within the presentation, topics such as the effects of livestock on the environment, and ultimately biodiversity in places such as the Amazon Rainforest, the importance of a sustainable conscious during this day and age, and the value of green space. I found this discussion extremely successful, because a majority of those who attended were interested in preservation and sustainable topics, but were never exposed to issues such as these. In order to meet Australia’s proposed sustainable goals, it will depend on the generation we discussed these topics with to not only protect Australia’s environment, but the global environment as well.

Bruce Gets More Green!

In addition to a discussion with other residents in our college, we then initiated our project to build a garden within Bruce’s quad. upon learning the importance of green space, especially in urban setting such as on the ANU campus, we spent our day constructing our very own. Green spaces are vital for both the environment’s sake as well as the benefits it provides to people. Vegetation becomes habitat for a variation of insects, or even small animals and birds in some settings. Although our garden was small, it was the action and connection to the environment that we were trying to encourage onto other people, to make them more conscious towards the environment, biodiversity, and ecosystems in the future.

A few Bruce Hall Sustainability Committee members with the newly built garden.

Bird Surveying In The ACT 

On a cold and early morning of October 5th, I joined a group of students led by Dr Phil Gibbons to participate in an ongoing study of birds and their habitats. This study looks at trees in three different settings, rural, suburban, and city, and observes three stages of trees; young, medium, and mature. The purpose is to record the number of visits on the tree, and the number of species that visit it in order to develop urban development and planning base doff the importance of certain trees. During 20 minute intervals, we wanted and recorded the species of bird that land on or within a tree, what their actions are on the tree, i.e., are they using hollows or perching, and then to see where they head to once leaving the trees. We also took into account what they would use or interact with once entering the tree, for example what kind of branches were they perched on, how big were the hollows- were they feeding or nesting?

This study was so extremely fascinating to me because it’s something so niche, yet so vitally important to the entire ecosystem. When urban planning, it is extremely important to identify which trees, if removed, would result in a loss of a population, or even a species.   With mature trees as valuable as they are due to the amount of time it takes to develop hollows, they are not able to be replaces in a human lifetime. With the increase in encouragement to expand, the loss of the mature trees in increasing, threatening hollow-bearing species, and loss of a keystone providers to other species (Le Roux et. al, 2014). Within a single morning, here is a list of the species recorded among the sites we visited near Majura:

  • Eastern Rosella
  • Common (Indian) Mynah
  • Common (European) Starling
  • Noisy Miner
  • Crimson Rosella
  • Striated Pardalote
  • Australian Magpie
  • Galah
  • Noisy Friarbird

Locations of the trees recorded on October 5th.

What Did We Find?

Although it is often common sense that mature trees are extremely valuable and home to a variety of wildlife, these trees are still being torn down and replaced with younger, much less mature trees as offsets (Le Roux et. al, 2015). We found that mature trees in open paddocks tend to host the most birds and the largest variety in wildlife. Personally, I found how beneficial this study really is. It was hard for me to put into words how fascinated I was by both the study and the results we got! One of our last trees, locate just outside of the magpie war zone we previously encountered, rarely had any down time between the amount of birds that were constantly landing. Once you experience something like this firsthand, you then realize how truly important these structures are in means of biodiversity protection, and the threats that new suburbs pose.

References:

Le Roux, D, Ikin, K, Lindenmayer, D, Manning, A and Gibbons, P, 2014. The Future of Large Trees in Urban Landscapes, PloS ONE 9(6): e99403.

Le Roux, D, Ikin, K, Lindenmayer, D, Manning, A and Gibbons, P, 2015. Single Large of Several Small? Applying Biogeographic Principles to Tree-Level Conservation and Biodiversity Offsets, Biological Conservation 191: 558-5566.

 

Word count: 812

Total time spent: 7 Hours

Jackie Pulak

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