2 December 2021
On Sunday 28 November, some 45 wildlife-lovers joined PlatypusWatch at Canungra School of Arts Hall for a presentation and hands-on learning session to find out more about platypuses, bushfire recovery, and waterbugs.
Very little information exists regarding the impact of bushfires on platypus survival; however, recently completed research using eDNA surveys by EnviroDNA detected a 14% to 18% decline in platypus occupancy post-fire. To add to the body of research into platypus persistence following fire, Wildlife Queensland was recently granted some of the federal government’s Regional Bushfire Recovery for Multiregional Species and Strategic Projects funding to implement a project that surveys platypuses and their ecosystems in bushfire-affected areas of the Scenic Rim.
The Importance of Refuge Pools for Platypuses
During bushfires, it is assumed that platypuses remain ‘safe’ within their burrows, but the aftermath of fire may indirectly affect platypus populations. Bushfires destroy riparian habitats and reduce water quality. One of the major threats to platypuses, in general, is reduced water levels due to prolonged drought. Bushfire exacerbates that issue, as water may also be diverted for fire containment. In the absence of refuge pools in which platypuses can wait out a dry spell or bushfire, platypuses are forced over land, increasing their risk of predation or of being caught in a fire event.
Rain following bushfire can also wash ash and eroded soil into the waterways, smothering the platypus’s main food source (aquatic macroinvertebrates) and displacing individuals which will have to move to look for food elsewhere. PlatypusWatch’s bushfire recovery project incorporates eDNA sampling, habitat surveying and waterbug assessments to monitor water quality within previously burnt regions. Waterbugs are a vital part of the freshwater ecosystem food chain, both at larval and adult stages. Certain groups (taxa) of waterbugs are sensitive to disturbance, and their susceptibility is rated using a SIGNAL score. Surveying the diversity and abundance of waterbugs can thus allow PlatypusWatch researchers to rate habitat health too. For more information and resources about waterbugs, visit the National Waterbug Blitz site.
Summer Rains Didn’t Bug These Aquatic Explorers
Despite Canungra Creek being fast-flowing due to recent rain, our dedicated platypus and waterbug watchers were able to sample waterbugs collected from under the bridge. The diversity and number of bugs produced a fair to good rating for quality, even given the turbid water. Canungra Creek is a local hotspot for platypus, which are usually seen upstream of the bridge. The habitat can sustain platypus with fresh flowing water, food diversity and abundance, and habitat features such as stable earthen banks for burrowing sites.
Over time, this PlatypusWatch project will develop a baseline dataset for monitoring platypuses within the Scenic Rim region, feeding the information we collect into local and national management plans for the ongoing protection of the species.
“It’s important that we look to the future and outside the box for innovative ways to help aquatic species survive rapid environmental and climate change,” says Tamielle Brunt, PlatypusWatch’s Project Officer. “The more information PlatypusWatch can gather about this elusive, iconic species, the better equipped we will be to alleviate the detrimental effects of devastating events such as drought, floods and fires.”
If you have a property with a potential platypus waterway within the area affected by the 2019 –2020 bushfires, please contact email@example.com to express your interest in your property becoming a potential survey site for this project.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
If you spot a platypus, report it with our easy-to-use form or contact firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about our projects and get involved with citizen science surveys and activities that support platypus conservation, please join PlatypusWatch.