Priority protection needed for dwindling platypus populations

Platypus habitat in Australia has shrunk by 22 per cent in 30 years and the animal should now be listed as a nationally threatened species, according to new research led by the University of New South Wales.

The scientists compiled all available data and records of the platypus to examine changes in both its distribution and occurrence, concluding that it meets the criteria for a vulnerable listing under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).

The research found that the sharpest declines in platypus habitat by State were in New South Wales and Queensland, which respectively recorded a 32 per cent and a 27 per cent reduction in the areas occupied by platypuses.

Wildlife Queensland supports the nomination of the platypus as a threatened species under federal environmental laws.

“Determining the correct conservation status of the platypus is desirable so that the appropriate funding to facilitate the necessary strategies is in place to ensure the long-term survival of the species,” said Wildlife Queensland Policies & Campaigns Manager, Des Boyland.

Monitoring platypus populations in South East Queensland

Ecologist and Wildlife Queensland PlatypusWatch Network Project Officer Tamielle Brunt spoke with ABC Radio Brisbane (start at 1:50), Sunshine Coast (start at 2:15) and Southern Downs (start at 45:00) this week about the threats to platypus populations in South East Queensland and the critical need for ongoing monitoring of the health of waterways and platypus persistence.

Brunt, who is completing her PhD at the University of Queensland, is currently analysing land use impacts on platypuses within the Greater Brisbane region as part of her broader research into the persistence of platypus populations within South East Queensland, to help determine specific issues in the landscape where rehabilitation is required.

Over the past five years, Brunt has also been conducting platypus environmental DNA (eDNA) sampling studies as part of Wildlife Queensland’s ongoing Platypus eDNA Project to document and map the distribution and abundance of platypuses in South East Queensland.

Repeated eDNA sampling surveys conducted within the Greater Brisbane region have detected localised areas of concern (where platypuses no longer inhabit, compared to historical records).

“Preliminary findings from Wildlife Queensland’s Platypus eDNA Project are showing that platypuses no longer inhabit creeks just north of the Brisbane CBD, such as Enoggera Creek (see article: 30 August 2020),” says Brunt.

“The call to upgrade the listing status of the platypus under the EPBC Act is a positive step that will flag the platypus as a significant species and provide upgraded legal protection, especially when it comes to urban development.”

What has happened to cause our platypuses to disappear?

Land clearing: Native vegetation removed for urbanisation, agriculture or forestry along freshwater waterways has compromised the stability of the banks, causing erosion and sedimentation. Platypuses rely on high, stable banks for burrowing, especially the females for nesting sites.

Water use (irrigation, dams, weirs): Changes in water flow and water levels are a concern as platypuses heavily rely upon freshwater to feed, mate and safely travel in the system. If systems are disconnected or drying up, platypuses will struggle to survive. They will travel overland to find other water sources but in an urban landscape, they have a lot to contend with and may not reach another refuge pool.

Water pollution: Will impact their food source of aquatic insect larvae, which are sensitive to changes in water parameters. If their food declines, platypuses will be forced to find it elsewhere.

Other threats include drought, predation, litter entanglement and enclosed yabby traps.

How you can help our platypuses

Continued monitoring is critical. We cannot protect our platypuses if we don’t know they are there. Observational records are very important as they can help us determine the distribution of a species and fluctuations over time, whether temporary or permanent.

That’s why it’s vitally important that community members report their sightings to the  PlatypusWatch Network.

Each sighting is important for the survival of the species.

  • If you find a dead platypus: They are still highly important for research. Please contact the PlatypusWatch Network as per above.

You can also support platypus conservation through our adopt-a-platypus program.

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