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Sharing data on Otways threatened species

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On 18 August, more than 40 researchers and land managers from the Otways region gathered in Geelong to share their latest research and findings.

“It’s an exciting time to be conducting threatened species research in the Otways,” said Dr Jack Pascoe, from the Conservation Ecology Centre, in opening the Otways Threatened Species Research Forum.

To kick things off, and provide some context, Cathy Longmore from Parks Victoria shared the first results from the Otway Ark program – where camera trapping has recoded five threatened species; the Southern Brown Bandicoot, Long-nosed Potoroo, Swamp Antechinus, White-footed Dunnart, and Rufous Bristlebird as well as 11 non-native species.

This was just the first in what will be annual monitoring to keep a finger on the pulse of the Otways wildlife as measures are taken to decrease the threat of foxes – on the Visualising Victoria’ Biodiversity web platform developed by the Centre for eResearch and Digital Innovation from Federation University.

The Otway Ark project provides a unique environment research into the effects of landscape scale fox-baiting on small mammals, but also on the foxes themselves, and other predators.

For example:

  • Dr Bronwyn Hradsky and her team at the University of Melbourne are working on a modelling tool, which includes fox movement data, which they hope will be able to predict the response of foxes to baiting and other management activities, such as fire.
  • Zoi Banikos, also from the University of Melbourne, will be studying the response of the long-nosed potoroo, and other critical weight-range mammals in the Otways to the program.
  • University of Melbourne PhD student Matt Rees will use camera trapping to study what happens to the feral cat population when the foxes are controlled.
  • And Mark Le Pla from the Conservation Ecology Centre hopes to use scats to track the responses of individual foxes to the Otway Ark program.

Other critical presentation on the day included:

  • The search for the Ground Parrot in the Otways. The last records were in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but the recent re-discovery of the Night Parrot in northern Australia has given Dr Grant Palmer hope that we can find the night parrot in the Otways, and he’s listening out for them using sound recording equipment in the Carlisle Heath.
  • Some great videos of small mammals in the She-Oak Falls area were shared by Peter Homan, including some unexpected records of the Broad-toothed Rat. Peter takes video rather than photos from his monitoring cameras as he finds them more useful for both species identification, and public education.
  • Emma Bennett from Monash University is studying the value of using dogs in conservation. Are they better than humans at finding rare species? And are they more cost effective than other detection methods? She’ll be coming to the Otways to cast her eye over the volunteer Otway Conservation Dogs program to see how the dogs are performing.
  • Computer modelling being developed by Dr Matt Swan and collaborators at the University of Melbourne and Conservation Ecology Centre will help us predict which areas of habitat could be suitable for the range of threatened species in the Otways – so we know where to look for them, and what habitat we need to prioritise for protection.
  • A group of researchers from the University of Melbourne, led by A/Prof Alan York, and DELWP have been studying how different fire regimes affect the species that live in the Otways – they’ve found a greater variety of burned states allows a greater range and number of species to occur, but this must be balanced with the need to conserve life and property. There is a sweet spot.
  • Katrina Marie Thomas from Victoria University is investigating another clonal species. The Leafy Greenhood Orchid at Cape Otway. In order to conserve the species Katrina is using genetics to identify the number of individuals in a population, and how to isolate the fungi the species needs in order to germinate. This knowledge could help us to transplant the species into other suitable habits.
  • And the phenomenal Anglesea Grevillia, a species which is only found in the Otways. This beautiful plant is pretty special as it is, in fact, a collection of clones which have lost the ability to reproduce sexually. So the Botanic Gardens, DEWLP, and local volunteers are working together to increase our understanding of the species in the hope we can help it survive a little longer.

This was the second year the Otways Threatened Species Research Forum has been run and it was wonderful share knowledge across land managers and researchers from Parks Victoria, DELWP, The University of Melbourne, Monash University, La Trobe University, Federation University, Victoria University and the Royal Botanic Gardens, as well as our team from the Conservation Ecology Centre.

The forum was supported by Beacon Ecological  and the Conservation Ecology Centre would like to acknowledge major project supporters The Ian Potter Foundation and Helen Macpherson Smith Trust.

You can read all the abstracts from the talks here.

If you’d like to know more, or attend future events, please email Jack Pascoe, Conservation & Research Manager at the Conservation Ecology Centre at jack@conservationecologycentre.org