AWMS Newsletter

   
  July 2020

   
Volume 34 Issue 2   

From the President

Well 2020 has turned out to be quite the year so far hasn’t it?  I hope that all of you have found a way to work through all that has happened these last 6 months. It’s not all bad though.  I have enjoyed seeing more family’s out walking together as I walk my dog each day, and personally, working from home has been a breeze.  I have been more productive and far less stressed, and it proves to most employers, that we really can have flexible workplaces, and for many jobs, we truly can work from anywhere.

As you would have seen or heard already, the AWMS committee made the decision to cancel this year’s conference in Dunedin.  We had to make this decision quite early and it was the right one.  The Australia-New Zealand “travel bubble” is still not a reality, and given the current outbreak in Victoria, is not likely to become one any time soon.  So, this year we are going to attempt to run a virtual conference.  We are hopeful that this is going to be beneficial for our sister organization SAWMA, who have indicated that they are likely to be able to fill a session with presentations from Southern Africa.  This could be a great opportunity to enhance and strengthen our already firm relationship with SAWMA.  I encourage all of you to consider submitting an abstract and participating in our virtual conference, and to attend sessions where possible, to support our presenters far and wide.

This year is my final year as President of AWMS and my term will come to an end at this year’s AGM.  I encourage you to consider a position on the executive committee, either as President or as any one of the other positions that are up for nomination.  The task is not an onerous one, but it does require some dedication of time over the year.  Further information on nominations for positions will come out closer to the AGM, but now is the time to start thinking about it. 

Finaly, I will be on leave for July and August so your Vice President, Tom Newsome, will be holding the fort while I am away.  I look forward to catching up with you all virtually in December at our conference and AGM.  Until then, stay safe. 

Tarnya.

AWMS 2019 Award recipients

Congratulations to all the AWMS 2019 Award recipients.

In this section you will find more information about the awardees and their research projects.

Postgraduate Student Research Award

Increasing reintroduction success of greater bilbies (Macrotis lagotis)

Brianna Coulter releasing a bilby following post-release monitoring (photo credit: Bill Webeck/the Australian Wildlife Conservancy).

Brianna Coulter

University of New South Wales

brianna.coulter@student.unsw.edu.au


About Brianna

Brianna is a PhD at the University of New South Wales in the Centre for Ecosystem Science. Her project focuses on understanding what factors affect the establishment outcomes of bilby translocations, including reintroductions and reinforcements, and understanding how bilby translocations affect the receiving environment. She previously worked in medical research but was drawn to the reintroduction biology field due to the widespread extirpation and ongoing threat of extinction faced by many endemic Australian species.


Introduction

Reintroductions of threatened species have become a popular conservation tool in Australia, and globally, to combat the growing number of species extinctions (Seddon et al., 2007; Short, 2009), with over 200 mammal reintroductions previously conducted in Australia (Short, 2009).  Despite this, improvements in reintroduction outcomes and our understanding of what factors influence reintroduction success has been gradual due to retrospective examination of management outcomes dominating the reintroduction biology field, rather than experimental analysis (Armstrong and Seddon, 2008; Seddon et al., 2007; Taylor et al., 2017). The greater bilby (Macrotis lagotis) is the fourth most reintroduced Australian species (Short, 2009), with reintroductions previously conducted across 14 sites and further releases planned. It is nationally listed as Vulnerable according to the EPBC Act (1999) and the IUCN (2015). They have also been extinct in NSW since 1912 (Troughton, 1932), are listed as Endangered in QLD and vulnerable in SA, WA and the NT. They have been the focus of many reintroductions due to their extinction risk, popularity as a flagship species and the important ecosystem services they provide as ecosystem engineers.

Many factors in the reintroduction process can influence the initial establishment success and the long-term viability of a reintroduced population (Letty et al., 2007). Establishment outcomes have been compared for captive vs wild sourced bilbies (Moseby et al., 2014), immediate release of bilbies vs release following an acclimatisation period (Moseby et al., 2014), and predator naïve vs predator exposed bilbies (Ross et al., 2019). There are many other factors that have not been tested in bilbies such as the effect of individual characteristics of release animals and mixture of source sites on establishment outcomes. Parentage outcomes of individual release animals has not been examined as an establishment outcome in bilbies which is a better indicator of contribution to genetic diversity than survival alone. Genetic diversity is becoming a focus of reintroduction planning as it is crucial to ensure the long-term viability of reintroduced populations. Methods to maximise the genetic diversity of reintroduced bilby populations and to improve the genetic diversity of established populations have not yet been explored in detail.

We will study factors that might influence the survival and reproductive outcomes of bilbies reintroduced to two sites, Sturt National Park and Mallee Cliffs National Park, in collaboration with UNSW’s Wild Deserts project and the Australian Wildlife Conservancy, respectively. These reintroductions are both part of the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment’s Reintroduction of Locally Extinct Mammals project. The factors we will examine will include individual characteristics of the release animals, release group source sites and post-release behaviour. Improving our understanding of what factors influence not only the survival but also the reproductive outcomes of release animals will enable us to make recommendations for future reintroductions of bilbies and other similar species to support the best possible reintroduction outcomes and maximise genetic diversity.

Methods

The individual characteristics (morphometrics, life history traits and behaviour) of all bilbies reintroduced to two predator-free fenced exclosures (Mallee Cliffs National Park and Wild Deserts in Sturt National Park) will be measured and recorded before their release. All the release animals will be microchipped to monitor long-term survival outcomes and tissue samples will be collected from each animal. The release animals will be fitted with VHF transmitters with a mortality signal to monitor their survival for up to three months following their release using radiotelemetry. Radiotelemetry will also be used to monitor the movements of the bilbies post-release to assess their post-release habitat, shelter, and conspecific interaction behaviour. Trapping will be conducted at 3-, 6- and 12-months post-release to monitor the survival and condition of the release animals, assess the reproductive condition of the female animals and to collect tissue samples from offspring. Parentage analysis using single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) generated through a next generation sequencing method will be conducted to assign parents to the offspring and to examine the reproductive outcomes of the release animals. The effect of source site, individual characteristics, and post-release behaviour of release animals on establishment outcomes including, survival and reproductive success, will be examined.

Progress so far

In October 2019, bilbies (n = 50) sourced from three different sites (Thistle Island, Scotia Sanctuary and the Zoo and Aquarium Association) were reintroduced to Mallee Cliffs National Park, coordinated by the Australian Wildlife Conservancy and the post-release radiotelemetry was conducted by the Australian Wildlife Conservancy. The 3- and 6-months post-release trapping have been conducted and tissue samples have been collected from 26 progeny. The bilby reintroduction at the Wild Deserts’ project site in Sturt National Park was initially planned for April 2020 but due to the ongoing drought, this could not occur. The site received significant rainfall in March, with follow up rainfall in April and May which has improved conditions at the release site to enable the reintroduction to take place in September 2020. The tissue samples collected so far, in addition to further tissue samples which will be collected at 12-months post-release and those collected from the progeny following the Wild Deserts reintroduction, will be used to conduct genetic parentage analysis.

Funding from the Australian Wildlife Management Society allows us to conduct the DNA sequencing to be used for the genetic parentage analysis. While the survival of the individual release animals is important for establishment success, parentage outcomes provide more detail about the establishment outcomes of the individuals and will help us determine what factors influence their establishment success. The genetic analysis of samples collected from Mallee Cliffs National Park is scheduled to be completed by November 2020, while the genetic analysis of samples collected from Wild Deserts is scheduled to be completed by October 2021.

Best Student Presentation

The effects of fire on insectivorous bats and their resources in Cape York Peninsula, Australia


Julie Broken-BrowJulie Broken-Brow

School of Agriculture and Food Science, University of Queensland

julie.brokenbrow@uqconnect.edu.au

About Julie

Julie Broken-Brow currently works at the University of Queensland and Titley Scientific. Julie does research on bat and fire ecology in northern Australia. Her PhD project is entitled 'The effect of fire on insectivorous bats and their resources in Cape York Peninsula'. She also studies ecoacoustics and their ecological applications including novel approaches to soundscape analysis. Previous work includes radiotracking and ecology studies of Saccolaimus spp. in Cape York and NSW, and habitat use of mangroves by microbats.

Abstract

Fire is a significant ecological force in Australia, causing a wide range of ecosystem effects from immediate wildlife mortality to long-term habitat changes. There is mounting evidence that inappropriate fire regimes are a key process driving the decline of small mammals in northern Australia. In Cape York Peninsula there are 27 species of insectivorous bats, several of which are threatened, yet little is known about how fire affects these bats. In this study, we examine the short-term response of bats and their insect prey to fire, as well as the effects of different fire regimes, including intensity and return-interval on bats and their habitat. We’ve used a range of methods including passive acoustic monitoring, habitat assessments, and insect trapping, in before-after-control-impact (BACI) experiments, and randomized
block experiments to critically determine the effects of fire on bats and their resources. Our results show
that fire can have a significant impact on bats and their resources, and that differing fire regimes are likely
to have varied impacts. We’ve also demonstrated that site-specific characteristics can drastically influence
ecological responses to fire. The findings from this study can be used to improve conservation
management strategies in northern Australia, and can aid in the interpretation of results from other fire
and bat studies globally.


Best Student Presentation  (runner up)

Applying Viral Metagenomics to Ecology and Wildlife Management


Rebecca French