By Talia Gedik
Habitat loss is the largest single cause of biodiversity loss worldwide.1 One problem associated with it is habitat fragmentation (“the division of large, continuous habitats into smaller, more isolated remnants”).2 Habitat fragmentation has a number of negative impacts upon biodiversity e.g. isolation of patches = less genetic diversity in populations. Therefore, it is an important issue to address.
I was given the opportunity to explore the issue of habitat fragmentation on a regional scale. I worked with Stephanie Pulsford, a PhD student at ANU’s Fenner School, to monitor the movement of frogs and lizards on grazing properties in NSW. These properties contain remnants of protected Box-Gum Woodland and Steph’s project aims to determine how to facilitate the movement of frogs/lizards between these. She hopes that this will help graziers to improve the populations of frogs/lizards on their farms. She chose these animals because they have, so far, been relatively neglected in the field.
My first day of work experience was on a private property site near Bungendore. As this was the first day of the survey round we had to set up traps to capture, and subsequently monitor the movement of, frogs/lizards. We installed drift fences, opened previously installed pitfall traps and set up funnel traps.
Steph was looking at the impact that different features have on the movement of frogs/lizards. For example, she set up traps along the fence line to see what affect fences have.
We were lucky enough to find 3 animals which had unintentionally been caught – a Smooth Toadlet, a Spotted Marsh Frog and a Pale-flecked Garden Sunskink.
Once a frog/lizard is found it is marked, measured, weighed, photographed and then released. They are marked using visible plant elastomer. This colourful substance is injected into the animal and remains externally visible. Their movement is tracked by taking note of where they were found and what marking they possessed.
On my second day we went to 2 private property sites, the first near Murrumbateman and the second near Breadalbane. This time our task was to check traps!
The first site was slightly disappointing. I was looking forward to seeing lots of frogs/lizards but all we found was a frog and lots of bugs…
We had more success at site 2. Here we found approximately 20 frogs/lizards, including lots of Smooth Toadlets, Spotted Marsh Frogs and Verreaux’s Tree Frogs.
Like on day 1, we collected data on the frogs/lizards that we found and marked the newbies. We caught some which had been previously found and some which had not.
At the end of the experience I was sad that I had to leave these cute little critters behind… but also relieved that I didn’t bump into any snakes along the way.
The experience taught me a lot about research methods and the different species we found. However, in 2 days I wasn’t able to gather much information on the findings. Overall, I enjoyed helping Steph and wish her luck with her PhD!
1 Australian Government, Department of the Environment. 2011. “Pressures affecting Biodiversity”. In State of the Environment Report 2011: 620.
2 Didham R. K. 2010. “Ecological Consequences of Habitat Fragmentation”. In Encyclopedia of Life Sciences. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd: 1.