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Subproject 4.2.5 student update (August 2009)

Management of forest species of high conservation signficance, including threatened species


Mick Todd (PhD student, UTAS) has completed his call playback surveys for his Masked Owl PhD which he has been doing throughout most of Tasmania over the last 12 months. Call playback surveys involve the playback of pre-recorded calls of the Tasmanian Masked Owl through a megaphone and listening and looking for responses of any Masked Owls in the area. Over a thousand such surveys were conducted, many of them in State Forest. Over 80 new records of the Masked Owl have been obtained. While the results are yet to be analysed, there appears to be a greater density of Masked Owls at lower altitude, particularly below 450 metres; they also appear to prefer dry forest types to wet forest types. Similar results were obtained from the Southern Boobook and the Australian Owlet-nightjar which were often heard during the surveys even though their calls were not broadcast.  See separate article in Biobuzz 8 for more detailed information on Mick's research.

Affiliated students

Lisa Cawthen has begun a PhD project at the University of Tasmania  looking at bats.  She is in search of some bat detecting instruments, so please contact Lisa if you can help out.

Erin Flynn has loads of results from her possum studies and is currently working out what they all mean.  See a separate article in this issue of Biobuzz.

CRC-affiliated PhD student Tracey Hollings has been making progress with her project, looking at the ecosystem impacts of Tasmanian devil decline as a consequence of devil facial tumour disease (DFTD). Daniel Livingstone from the FPA has been assisting Tracey with GIS analysis for her project. The Tasmanian devil, Sarcophilus harrisi, is the largest extant marsupial carnivore  and is threatened with extinction from an infectious cancer, devil facial tumour disease (DFTD). Tracey’s project aims to  determine the broad-scale impacts that a decline in devil numbers will have on Tasmanian ecosystems.   Information gathered will allow Tracey to test the "mesopredator release hypothesis".  This is a relatively new hypothesis that describes the phenomenon of a food-chain cascade effect that occurs when top predators decline in an ecosystem.  The loss of the "top dog" produces an increase in populations of medium-sized predators. Tracey will conduct surveys at multiple sites in areas covering the spectrum of devil population health, from pre- to post-devil decline. Tracey's data  will allow her to: (a) assess changes to populations of smaller native and introduced carnivores; (b) assess changes to prey populations;  (c) examine changes to the health status of these populations with diseased individuals no longer actively controlled by devil predation; and (d) examine changes to the health status of populations of small carnivores and prey species in the context of a likely increase in feral cat numbers and a possible concomitant increase in the protozoan parasite, Toxoplasma gondii. Preliminary results from extensive trapping and spotlighting indicate that numbers of feral cats and quolls are already increasing. This study will resolve some theories of the role of carnivores in the landscape and identify management priorities to maintain ecosystem function in the absence of the devil.

Karen Richards is beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. She recently completed a draft of her first paper reporting her molecular phylogenetic  work. Her molecular evidence supports the findings of  morphological studies (by other researchers) relating to the patterns of snail speciation within the genus Beddomeia. The next step for Karen is the analysis of her ecological data using R!

With help from Forestry Tasmania District staff, Shannon Troy has been enjoying the delights of the wet forests in the northwest of Tasmania during the fieldwork for her PhD project which started earlier this year. So far her capture rate for spotted-tailed quolls has been low and females are proving hard to get!  Shannon is doing habitat assessments as she goes and is enjoying learning lots about shrubs and ground cover species in wet forest.

Sarah Tassell (PhD student, University of Tasmania) is researching the impact of lyrebirds on Tasmanian forest ecosystems.

Biobuzz issue nine, august 2009