Outback kids are citizen scientists

A new citizen science project is helping outback kids discover what animals live on their property.

The SAAL Landscape Board is working with School of the Air students to find what animal species can be found in their landscape through the collection and analysis of predator scats.

As part of the project, the students are collecting cat, wild dog and fox scats to improve the understanding of what native species they are eating and potentially identifying new species on their properties. It may also help to understand how often the predaotr animals feed on the prey species and whether their diet changes from season to season.

To introduce the project, the children learnt to recognise different types of scats by recreating them from playdough, paying particular attending to size and shape. They were also given information about where different species are most likely to leave their scats.

It was important for the students to understand the differences between the scats of different predator animals to help them collect only predator animal scats for analysis. They will also record on a datasheet a description of the landscape where the scat was found, as well as recording the date, time and GPS location.

SA Arid Lands Ecologist Cat Lynch said there is as much variation in the colour and shape of predator scats, just as there is in their diet.

She said scats would be collected by the students and sent to Scats About Ecology, a NSW based business that will dry, cook and wash the scats to leave behind hair, feathers, teeth, scales and bone that, once dry, are sorted for analysis.

“The fragments are identified by comparing them with reference specimens. Teeth, certain bones, feathers and claws can help identify the prey animal. Hair changes too - being different sizes, colour patterns and looking different in cross section under a microscope,” she said.

“The results from the scats tell us what predators are focusing on which prey and when you examine a number of scats in the same area, you can see what predation pressure local native fauna are under.

“Looking at prey species can also detect species that you may not otherwise know are living in the area.”

Provided the analysis allows for it, the findings of the Scat project will be shared with students at their next in-school week. 

 

Image: School of the air students Asher, Tilly and Alex mould scats from playdough.