Fresh hope for vulnerable malleefowl

The discovery of three active malleefowl mounds in the Gawler Ranges in areas where predators are controlled is highlighting the importance of the work to the malleefowl’s survival.

Particularly vulnerable to introduced predators such as foxes, the malleefowl is being studied to determine the effectiveness of broad-scale predator baiting. Information collected will contribute to a broader project being undertaken across Australia by the Threatened Species Recovery (TSR) Hub, which aims to better understand the effect of predator control on predator activity and its relationship to malleefowl survival and breeding success.  

The work is being undertaken as part of the Board’s Bounceback and Beyond program which expands on the positive work undertaken as part of the Department for Environment and Water’s (DEW) long running Bounceback program, which has effectively reduced fox numbers through aerial baiting for more than a decade.

SA Arid Lands Ecologist Cat Lynch recently surveyed close to 100 mounds identified in 2019 across a number of baited and unbaited properties in the region. Mounds were surveyed to see if they were ‘active’, meaning they were being used by malleefowl to incubate eggs.

Of the three active mounds that were found, two were in baited areas which suggests there may be a better breeding output of malleefowl in areas where foxes have been controlled.

“This find reinforces the importance of our work in protecting native fauna from threats such as foxes and feral cats,” Cat said.

Malleefowl create their nest using a combination of ground litter and soil to create a compost in which it lays and incubates its eggs. The species is incredibly unique in that it actively regulates the temperature of the nest, which can be more than 4m wide, by constantly monitoring and working the soil and litter during the whole of the spring-summer breeding season.

In addition to surveying mound activity, our staff have also set monitoring cameras to compare baited and unbaited areas to collect data on malleefowl, as well as the presence of predators and native and herbivores such as kangaroos and goats. The Board now has more than 12 months of data from these cameras, which will be analysed and will contribute to the broader TSR Hub project.

With ongoing annual monitoring providing more information about the malleefowl and its threats over time, it is hoped this will ultimately aid in the protection and recovery of this fascinating native species.

The malleefowl is a target species of the five-year Bounceback and Beyond program which is delivered by the SA Arid Lands Landscape Board through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program. It is listed as vulnerable under Commonwealth legislation because of threats from predators, habitat loss and fragmentation, herbivore grazing and changed fire regimes.