New frontiers in the desert – Forecasting and bird ecology!

We’ve been busy lately, conducting multiple trips a year with an even greater range of monitoring targets – now birds are back on the radar! Dr Ayesha Tulloch has joined our team and has been conducting trips to the Simpson Desert since September 2017 to collect data for her ARC Discovery Early Career Researcher Fellowship, Forecasting Ecosystem Collapse and Recovery by Tracking Networks of Species: Ethabuka and Cravens Peak Reserve, Queensland. 

Ayesha Tulloch during her work with the Wildlife Conservation Society in Magadascar.

Ayesha Tulloch during her work with the Wildlife Conservation Society in Magadascar.

Ayesha’s research focuses on trying to develop better metrics to track change in communities in highly variable environments (like our boom-bust systems in the desert). Ayesha’s focus on communities rather than individual species comes from the emerging perspective that a focus on managing individual species ignores the fact that ecosystems function because species have complex associations with one another and the environment. Ayesha’s project proposes a new way to assess and predict ecosystem declines and recovery by measuring change in networks of interacting species. Using co-occurrence analysis and network theory,  she is trying to discover symptoms of change in the desert ecosystems that will help us determine how our animals and plants are faring. Her Red-capped-Robin.-Photo-Bobby-Tamayobird surveys take her across gidgee, spinifex and eucalypt woodlands in the Simpson Desert. She is monitoring bird communities and their habitat use, and investigating interactions between birds and resources at Bush Heritage Australia’s Ethabuka and Cravens Peak properties and the Carlo cattle station. Ayesha is also working closely with DERG alumni Max Tischler to broaden our understanding of bird communities through his work with Australian Desert Expeditions.

DERG also was very well represented at the 2018 annual Ecological Society of Australia conference in Brisbane, with 3 plenaries and two award winners! Glenda Wardle presented a speed plenary on ecological forecasting data needs, Ayesha Tulloch presented a plenary on forecasting to improve management and received the ESA “Next Generation Ecologist” Award, and Chris Dickman presented a plenary on his years of research in the desert and received the well-deserved ESA Gold Medal for his substantial contribution to the study of ecology in Australia over the course of their career. Aaron Greenville also presented his research at the conference and was awarded the 2018 ESA Award for Service to the Society. All in all a very successful conference! Several of the DERG members will be attending this year’s ESA conference in Launceston, hope to see you there!

2015 November Trip Report

<i>Acacia ligulata</I> seeds. Photo: David Nelson

Sandhill wattle (Acacia ligulata) seeds. Photo: David Nelson

See the full gallery here

As we drove into the small Western-Queensland town of Bedourie on our way to the Simpson Desert at the start of November, we began to wonder if we would make it out to our study site at all. The cars on the main street were plastered with mud, and thick chunks of clay were sliding off the wheel wells onto the street. We’d encountered some rain on the drive already – some out around Nyngan and Bourke, and more as we crossed the Channel Country. It doesn’t take too much to make the dirt roads impassable out there, and it looked like there was some serious rain around. Continue reading

2015 September Trip Report

<I>Ctenophorus nuchalis</I>, Central Netted Dragon. Photo: David Nelson

Ctenophorus nuchalis, Central Netted Dragon. Photo: David Nelson

See the full trip gallery here

The fourth trip of 2015 began, as always, with a three day drive to Ethabuka Reserve. The drive, though familiar to those of us who make the journey regularly, never ceases to impress, as tall trees and green paddocks give way to the dry, brown outback. As well as our two DERG vehicles, we were accompanied by volunteers Jan and Irene in their own vehicle. The rest of the crew consisted of Chris, Aaron, Dave, PhD candidate Kyla, honours candidate Gab, and our volunteers Nancy, Steve, Claire and David. Continue reading

2015 June Trip Report

View the full trip gallery here

Red-capped Robin. Photo: Bobby Tamayo

Red-capped Robin. Photo: Bobby Tamayo

The trapping schedule for the trip was to survey the Main Camp Gidgee grids – five full grids of 36 traps on sand-hills, and a further eight grids of 18 traps located in associated gidgee patches. This is part of an on-going investigation to explore the use of gidgee patches as possible refuge sites, as well as the movements of individual animals between these areas. We also trapped our mallee setup. Continue reading

2015 April Trip Report

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The Crew! Photo: David Nelson

The Crew! Photo: David Nelson

The April desert trip had two parts as a first vehicle left Sydney on 31 March and the other three vehicles departed on 8 April.

Part I

The first morning was spent opening grids for trapping and setting up Stephanie’s GUD (‘Giving Up Density’) experiment. The latter experiment aims to look at the interaction of predation risk with food choice by offering a variety of seeds of varying palatability in different predation contexts (trays in the open and near cover, and across multiple seasons). Peanuts are offered initially, to get the rodents accustomed to the food supply. Stephanie anticipated many peanut takes by the rodents given that food availability is likely to be low during the current dry period in the desert. Continue reading

2015 February Trip Report

Full trip photo gallery

Flowering spinifex on dune. Photo: David Nelson

Flowering spinifex on dune. Photo: David Nelson

With a couple of good rainfall events in western Queensland over December and January, we headed out to the desert in mid-February with high hopes for the trip. Evidence of the rain was everywhere – some of the roads on our route had only opened up about a week before we departed, and some roads in the region were still closed due to flooding. The Cooper Creek at Windorah was flowing. We encountered grasshopper swarms here and there, and Australian Pratincoles dotted the roadsides in large numbers. We even saw a couple of frogs. But had our study sites received any rain? Continue reading