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Protecting the platypus
In this special webinar, co-hosted by Archdiocese of Brisbane and Wildlife Queensland, resident platypus ecologist Tamielle Brunt talks about:
- the uniqueness and importance of platypuses
threats to platypus populations in south-east Queensland
platypus survey methods and findings
PlatypusWatch community-based program
what you can do to help platypuses.
Thank you for sending your questions during the webinar. Tamielle Brunt answers your questions below.
Q. You mentioned that platypus is listed as Least Concern in Queensland. What department is responsible for making that assessment? Do you think it should be reassessed?
Yes, the platypus is currently listed as Least Concern in Queensland under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act 1999. The department responsible for making that assessment is the Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment. Yes, most definitely – we hope collectively that with enough research we can warrant a nomination to upgrade the species.
Q. Does the use of herbicides i.e. glyphosate for the eradication of Salvinia affect platypus?
Yes, more specifically their food source. Aquatic macroinvertebrates are highly sensitive to pollution, therefore if there is no food there will be no platypuses. There has been some research into toxins within platypuses but the long-term impacts (such as illness or deformities) have not been documented.
Q. Hi, our Landcare group is based in Northern Rivers. Would we be able to use the PlatyCount and eDNA programs or are they really Queensland-centric?
Most definitely, you can run your own PlatypusWatch program and implement eDNA monitoring. Please email me for further details email@example.com
Q. How can we do platypus population research for Peterson Creek at Yungaburra on the Atherton Tablelands?
You could implement an annual PlatypusWatch observational survey to monitor the population. For more details please email me firstname.lastname@example.org
Q. How do you start a Catchment Group?
Contact your local council as they should have a catchment officer/s to help and other resources.
Q. Is there any chance for Enoggera Creek in The Gap to be suitable Platypus habitat again, or will it be too urbanised?
I think, unfortunately, it is the lack of permanent water in the Enoggera system that limits platypuses being able to populate there.
Q. Do we have any idea about how many platypuses there are in the wild?
This is the million-dollar question. Their elusive nature makes them difficult to survey, even with all methods. Current population estimates 30,000–300,000 (50,000) individuals (Woinarski and Burbidge, 2016).
Woinarski J and Burbidge AA (2016), Ornithorhynchus anatinus. The IUCN red list of threatened species at https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/40488/21964009.
Q. Do male Platypuses only have one spur or two?
Two, one on each hind foot ankle.
Q. Do you know of any similar work being carried out in Northern New South Wales?
Yes, the Platypus Conservation Initiative has implemented very detailed research in New South Wales.
Q. What creekside plants are most troublesome? I think lantana is one?
Yes, lantana is one. The thickness and density of the bushes can impact a platypus’ ability to move along the banks if they need to, possibly to a burrow site. Some weeds such as introduced grasses are an issue because they are very shallow rooted and easily eroded, causing issues for burrowing sites. Some other weeds like willows can have a thick root matt that will encroach the banks and make burrowing difficult. It has also been reported that some invasive tree species can change the water pH (when they lose their leaves into the water) which will then impact the platypus’ food source! Some aquatic macroinvertebrates are sensitive to changes in pH and pollution.
Q. For eDNA, what’s the limit? How long ago could a platypus have been there, or how far away could a platypus have been?
Depending on environmental conditions (UV, temperature, current and other hydrological processes) DNA can last between hours or days (our consultant at EnviroDNA mentioned approx. three days or so). If there is a resident platypus in approx. one-kilometre vicinity we will be able to pick up the DNA, but again depends on the rate of flow etc. this will dilute and degrade the DNA. Because of these limitations, we sample multiple locations along waterways, as well as repeat sampling every year to increase our confidence in detecting platypuses. They are transient animals, swimming in and out of systems and our data over the five years has shown platypus presence has fluctuated at sites over that period.
Q. I’ve often seen the row of bubbles before they surface. Why is that?
As they forage along the bottom of the creek, they can disturb pockets of air caught in the decaying debris. This will cause a trail of bubbles as they forage along. Also, there is air trapped under their thick fur which will also release bubbles when they are under the water.
Q. I’m a PhD student focused on wildlife rehabilitation. Have you considered looking at the platypus data / rehabilitated animals as they are released?
Yes, I’ve been lucky enough to collaborate with wildlife hospitals to collect data.
Q. I am interested in PCR primer for detecting eDNA.
We work with the company EnviroDNA. They developed the primers and run the PCR for analysis. The process is documented in Lugg, WH, Griffiths, J, van Rooyen, AR, Weeks, AR, Tingley, R (2018) Optimal survey designs for environmental DNA sampling. Methods Ecol Evol.
Q. Do opera house nets with the rigid 5cm opening lead to better outcomes for aquatic wildlife, or are they still too tricky to escape from?
Unfortunately, once they are caught, they cannot navigate their way out in their panic. The smaller entrance was meant to eliminate aquatic wildlife from being able to enter.
Q. I would like to participate as a platypus volunteer. Where could I get the information? Thank you so much for such a great presentation.
Thank you and email us your details so we can keep them on file for any upcoming events at email@example.com
Q. Was the platypus eDNA primer species-specific or for South East Queensland population? How much does each sample cost to get analysed? Thanks again for the great presentation!
The primers are species-specific. It is ~$100 per sample, which is one filter, however, processing in a large batch will reduce the cost.
Q. Were platypuses re-introduced to Kangaroo Island or just introduced? Were they originally found on Kangaroo Island?
They were introduced between 1920 to 1940s, as the island was identified as a refuge for threatened wildlife.
Q. If we are travelling around Australia and want to see a platypus, what key things would a habitat need to indicate a platypus might live there?
They are found along the east coast of Australia in permanent freshwater streams, preferably where the habitat has high stable banks, consolidated with native vegetation and a rocky bottom. These are key resources for platypuses to shelter, find food and mate. However, platypuses are resilient in degraded systems and can be found close to urban centres such as the Upper Yarra River in Melbourne, or Moggill Creek near Brisbane.
Q. What happens to the platypus when their creek is inundated by a dam?
Dams can be beneficial as they provide a pool-like habitat for foraging and can support platypuses in drought periods. However, dams can cause barriers and limit platypus movement which can force them out over land and risk predation. Platypus will use fish barriers to climb and move upstream. Damming water can also cause water limitation issues downstream and not sustain platypus populations.
Q. What major rivers around South East Queensland have platypus?
Coomera River, Nerang River, Albert River, Mid Brisbane River, South Pine River, Upper North Pine River, Caboolture River.
Q. Are there many platypuses on farms in South East Queensland, are they livestock or cropping farms?
Unfortunately, we don’t have information about platypuses on personal farms. During last year’s drought, we had people contact us and say they had a platypus in their dam. This would be because the dams provided a refuge.
Q. Perhaps missing the point, but are there plans at any point to re-release to the appropriate habitat? I assume it’s probably not that simple.
I would hope this is something that could be investigated for the long-term survival of the species. There would be a lot of groundwork, such as habitat assessments, rehabilitation of habitats, genetic analysis and rigorous ongoing monitoring to ensure they survive when released into the new habitat.
Q. Is there a Branch or group outside the South East Queensland area?
- In New South Wales – Platypus Conservation Initiative
- In Victoria – PlatypusSPOT or Australian Platypus Conservancy
Q. You may have mentioned this but do you know the situation of the platypus on Kangaroo island, post-bushfire?
I think they are going ok. There was a huge concern about the erosion of ash and sediment into the waterways that would cause water oxygen issues (impacting the platypus and their food source). They foresaw this issue and installed pumps to circulate and oxygenate the water which seems to have kept the platypuses happy.
Q. How is their venom used as a pain killer?
There are certain components within the venom that can stimulate pain-detecting cells. The more scientists know about the pain they can understand how to block it. Thus, developing drugs to block excruciating pain.
Q. I think the opera house yabbie traps are also banned in NSW now?
The NSW Platypus and Turtle Alliance are lobbying the government to ban enclosed yabby traps. Unfortunately, a ban has not yet been implemented.
Q. Has there been a reduction in dedicated fauna survey effort (which is a lot of WildNet data)?
Apart from some specific platypus surveys such as the Gold Coast PlatypusWatch and Moggill Creek Catchment Group. I’m not aware of other groups within the state that have such a comprehensive data set.
Q. Is eDNA sampling available to interested landowners to understand population presence?
The eDNA sampling isn’t available to landowners, yet. This would certainly be a great monitoring program to roll out and I hope it can be made possible soon.
Q. Do you sample the Mary River?
No, we haven’t eDNA sampled the Mary River, but have had recent sightings recorded in the upper reach around Kenilworth.
Q. Have you surveyed Kingfisher Creek in Albany Creek? What were the results? We have seen platypus four times in the last two months.
We haven’t eDNA sampled Kingfisher Creek but have sampled Albany Creek and Sandy Creek in the area. They both were positive. The lower South Pine River seems to be an active spot for platypuses. They move in and out of these smaller tributaries. Yes, thank you for your emails!
Q. Have you tested Kingfisher Creek, Albany Creek? We have not seen our platypus in this area for about 12 months.
We haven’t eDNA sampled Kingfisher Creek but have sampled Albany Creek and Sandy Creek in the area. They both were positive. The lower South Pine River seems to be an active spot for platypuses. We have had an email from a local who has seen platypuses in Kingfisher Creek throughout July and August!
Q. Are there other indicators that the water is ‘suitable’ for platypus e.g. perhaps the presence of turtles, lungfish etc?
No other aquatic species have been associated with platypus presence. Their food source (aquatic macroinvertebrates) is sensitive to water pollution. The abundance and diversity of these macroinvertebrates can indicate the level of water quality. For more fascinating information look up macroinvertebrate SIGNAL scores. Platypus will survive where there is a suitable amount of resources.
How you can help to protect platypuses
Find out about Wildlife Queensland’s dedicated PlatypusWatch program and how you can get involved.
Report a sighting
Have you ever seen a platypus in the wild? If so, you can make a valuable contribution to PlatypusWatch by telling us about your previous and recent sightings.
- Complete our PlatypusWatch Platypus Sighting form
- Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with a description of your sighting, the postcode of your sighting and your contact details.
Join a survey
Would you like to see a platypus in the wild? Come and join a platypus survey. Wildlife Queensland promotes community involvement in conservation and occasionally runs surveys to document local platypus populations.
Follow us on Instagram
Follow us on Instagram and tag your platypus pictures with #platypuswatch so we can share your pics.
Support our work with a financial contribution
If you would like to make a financial contribution, you can support our work to protect and conserve gliders in the following ways:
- through our adopt-a-platypus program
- buy some of our great platypus merchandise online, including Platypus puppet, Platypus soft toy. All proceeds go to support our conservation projects.
- make a tax-deductible donation.