Boodies in the rangelands

The Rangelands Restoration Project.  In 2000 the Lorna Glen and Earaheedy pastoral leases were acquired by the Western Australian Government for conservation purposes.  This 600,000ha area lying across the Gascoyne and Murchison IBRA regions has since been awarded exclusive Native Title to the Martu community, and declared the Matuwa Kurarra-Kurarra Indigenous Protected Area (MKK IPA). It is still the site for an ecologically integrated project to restore rangeland natural ecosystem function and biodiversity (Operation Rangelands Restoration), managed jointly by the Department of Parks and Wildlife and the Martu traditional owners. An important component of this project is the reintroduction of 11, mainly threatened, arid zone mammal species following the control of feral predators.

Matuwa (formerly the Lorna Glen pastoral lease of 244 000 ha) is approximately 150km north east of Wiluna, in the north-east Goldfields of WA. Since 2000, the property has been destocked and all artificial water sources have been closed in an attempt to revert the area back to a natural state. A prescribed burning regime has also been implemented to restore habitat heterogeneity to the area and prevent the spread of large wildfires. Since 2003, a feral cat baiting program has been implemented.

landscape-of-the-study-site
Matuwa – the study site.  Photo: Simon Cherriman.  See here for more images.

The area now comprising Matuwa once supported a diverse mammal fauna that was representative of the rangelands and deserts to the north and east. These rangeland areas have suffered the greatest in terms of mammal declines in Western Australia. At least 36 species of non-volant mammal species occur, or once occurred on Lorna Glen.  Of these, 13 (36%) are still extant, six (17%) possibly still occur, but have not been recorded during recent biological surveys, 12 (33%) are locally extinct, and five (14%) are extinct.

Previous ‘wild’ translocations of southern brushtail possums and bilbies at Matuwa in 2007-2009 were successful and have established ongoing populations. Wild translocations of mala and boodies suffered from impacts of introduced animal predation, both dingo/wild dog and feral cat, and a predator free enclosure of 1100ha was created to assist in future translocations of predator sensitive species. Since their translocation into the enclosure in 2010, boodies (Bettongia lesueur) have bred and expanded their population, and there are now plans underway to try another ‘wild’ translocation of boodies onto Matuwa in 2018.

In preparation for this translocation we are interested in investigating some characteristics of the resident population to help inform planning for the proposed wild translocation, and to establish some baselines against which to assess the translocated population’s behaviour, habitat use and diet responses. We are looking for students who are enthusiastic, enquiring and practical, to work in conjunction with DPaW staff, with this species in this remote, challenging environment over the next 1-2 years. We envisage that there is potential for at least one larger (Masters or PhD), or 2/3 Honours projects associated with this work.

Established boodie warren demographics, genetics, diet, and movements

  • Identify diet of boodies from these warrens using scats analysis. Collect scats at 3-4 times throughout year to compare with reference samples of vegetation, seed, fungi, and invertebrates available in pen to identify dietary preference
  • What is the demographic structure (age, sex, reproductive structure of warren) of each warren?  Involves trapping, mark-recapture methods.
  • Is there greater relatedness between individuals resident within the same warren compared with wider population?  Using DNA sampling.
  • Do boodies move freely between warrens? GPS tag (max 20) animals from a warren to understand movements.
  • Quantify home range size and maximum distances moved between warrens
  • Identify habitat use (spatial and temporal patterns to develop time budgets) and use this to identify preferred habitat (compared with available habitat)

AIM: These data will help inform selection of destination warren/s locations for 2018 translocation (to include appropriate habitat) and the management decisions of how far to extend intensive predator control to protect translocated animals.

2018 translocation of boodies

GPS + VHF collar 15-20 translocated boodies to:

  • determine survival
  • calculate home range area and maximum distances travelled
  • identify habitat use (time budgets)

Parks and Wildlife Support

  1. Many field trips (~ 50%?) supported within concurrent DPaW field programs
    • Vehicle, travel, food, accommodation (~ $10,000 per year)
  2. Telemetry units and equipment provided by DPaW (~$50,000 value)
  3. Supervisory support roles
    • Field work – Rangelands Restoration Research Scientist and Technical Officer.
    • Genetic analysis – DPaW geneticist and lab use if required.

For more information, contact Trish Fleming (t.fleming@murdoch.edu.au) or  Colleen ‎Sims (Colleen.Sims@dpaw.wa.gov.au)‎