What can we learn from monitoring threatened species?
We often refer to monitoring programs for a range of threatened animals across our region – but what is actually involved in the monitoring process?
While the main aim of any animal monitoring program is usually to assess the status of a population over time, the process used for monitoring differs depending on what species is being targeted as well as the key aim(s) of the monitoring.
Looking at the reintroduction of the Western Quoll for example, ongoing monitoring allows organisations to estimate population size of reintroduced species over time. Western Quolls were reintroduced to Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park in 2014-16, and monitoring involves annual cage trapping as well as camera trapping.
During the recent quoll trapping event in March, staff and volunteers set traps in the same location for five consecutive nights to see how many animals could be captured and to collect a range of data on each individual. For each animal, a variety of information is recorded, including weight, sex, body condition (scored from 1-5), pouch status (whether any young are present or any signs that they have recently had young), and measurement of the back feet and head.
The animals are also scanned for a unique microchip to see if the animal has been caught before. Those without one are microchipped, and a DNA sample is taken.
Any scats remaining in a trap are also collected for analysis to determine what the quolls are eating.
The entire process takes about five minutes. Once complete, the quoll is released at the same place it was caught. Given quolls are nocturnal, this process is all undertaken within a couple of hours of sunrise to minimise animal stress..
All of the information collected is stored in a database and can be compared between years to provide a population estimate and other information on how the population is faring in terms of breeding success and expansion across the project area.
Monitoring projects like this provide invaluable information on threatened species and are used to make informed decisions about management practices, such as predator control and management of other threats.
Monitoring of Western Quolls and possums at Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park is undertaken as part of the Bounceback and Beyond project, which is supported by the SA Arid Lands Landscape Board through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program.