About This Project
The Yellow-bellied glider (YBG) is a unique animal that glides between trees of woodlands in North-eastern Australia which are threatened by grazing and logging. Since their population sizes are unknown, we can’t push for habitat conservation. Because YBG are very vocal, we may be able to use their calls to distinguish between individuals to determine how many are around. We will do this by developing mobile mini labs that record and analyze calls but can also take photos with infrared cameras.
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What is the context of this research?
We're studying a subspecies of the Yellow-bellied Glider, endemic to Australia. The northern subspecies, also called the Fluffy Glider, is only found in a narrow band of forests within a 237km stretch along the northeastern coast of Australia. This species depends on certain habitats, only using specific tree species for denning and sap feeding.
The restriction to only one Eucalyptus species for denning and one Eucalyptus species to feed on sap from, and the requirement of large areas for a family group, makes this subspecies extremely vulnerable to change of habitat.
The species has already abandoned habitat, but signs of population decline prior to habitat abandonment are hard to detect unless we can regularly assess the number of family groups and individuals within a habitat.
What is the significance of this project?
The fluffy YBG feeds mainly on Red Stringy Bark eucalyptus sap, and is the only species that can access it with its strong incisors. Other species such as sugar gliders and birds can then also access the sap.
This species uses also pollen, nectar, and some invertebrates as food and therefore plays a role in pollination and controlling invertebrate populations of the forests it lives in.
Logging and grazing practices in its habitat pose a threat to the survival of this subspecies with detrimental consequences to the ecosystem it inhabits.
Once our minilabs are developed, long-term monitoring programs can be established to detect early population declines that can enable us to prevent the loss of YBG populations in certain habitats.
What are the goals of the project?
With the development of portable field-based audio/visual mini labs, there's a new opportunity to collect individual-specific data. Using sound and animal recognition software, we will be able to identify individuals and count the number of animals in a habitat. Since gliders use their calls to advertise the home range of their family group, the data can also be used to determine the number of family groups in an area.
Mini labs may be ready to be tested at the end of 2016. They will be first tested in a forest highly threatened by the potential commencement of grazing. The average size of home ranges of glider families can tell us the extent of habitat protection that is needed to save the glider population in this forest.
We aim to develop low cost, portable wildlife recording minilabs from readily available microcomputers and plug-in cards. We plan to develop our own control and analysis software for which we have chosen a Raspberry Pi microcomputer because it was developed specifically to teach programming and runs a Linux (open-source) operating system. It is supported by a very active on-line community of developers and hobbyists. The Raspberry Pi small and has many plug-in modules.
Each minilab will run off a rechargeable 12V sealed lead-acid battery which should allow several hours of recording per session. The night vision camera is a 5 megapixel unit that plugs in to the Raspberry Pi and can record time-lapse, stills and video images. For sound recording we will use a Cirrus Logic audio card. We'll also develop our own microphones following the designs published by the UK Wildlife Sound Recording Society. The listed parts will be essential to develop these minilabs.
Meet the Team
Member at large: Stan Newman
After studying physics at Manchester University, Stan ended up in experimental physics research labs for >25 years designing and building instruments and programming data acquisition systems. Stan now lives on a large block of North Queensland rainforest where he volunteers with local restoration and plays with microcomputers to control solar/hydro systems. Stan also investigates the complexity of rainforest life with digital sound recording and signal processing.
I studied ecology of animals and began my working career in Germany investigating pest rodents to develop a model to simulate their population growth for an efficient application of control methods. My research focused on ways to manipulate the reproduction of these rodents by using species-specific pheromones.
During post-doctoral fellowships in England and Belgium I was able to pursue research on chemical communication of vertebrates in combination with aspects of the spread of rodent borne zoonoses.
In 1998 I immigrated to Australia and settled in the tropical lowland rainforest of the Daintree Coast in NE Queensland. Here I assisted in the developing of restoration projects in the tourist industry, managed a Nature Reserve with threatened Fan Palm-dominated rainforest owned by Bush Heritage Australia, and did research on the chemical communication of feral pigs.
From 2006 to 2009 I taught German students on Australia’s ecosystems, geology, bio-geography and nature conservation strategies as Associate Lecturer at different German universities while also organizing and conducting field excursions across Australia.
In 2008 I started a position as a lecturer for rainforest ecology and fauna at the Centre for Rainforest Studies at The School for Field Studies. This gave me the opportunity to do more research on Australian mammals. Living and working in the Wet Tropics of North Queensland as a zoologist is like being in paradise since many endemic and unique vertebrates live in this part of the world. My general interests in vertebrates got quickly captured by tree-kangaroos and Yellow-bellied gliders, both species which are hard to study and suffering from habitat loss and fragmentation. Their conservation is problematic because we don’t know much about their habitat requirements and existing numbers. My aim is to gain more knowledge about these species to make their conservation more effective.
Meghan Graham MacLean
I joined the Office of Academic Affairs at The School for Field Studies in the fall of 2014. Previous to my time at SFS, I was an Assistant Professor at Babson College where I taught courses in environmental science and sustainability to Babson's undergraduate business students. Although my teaching at Babson was primarily based on improving undergraduate science literacy, I have quite a varied teaching background. I have taught at a variety of levels, from middle school to graduate school, and on a variety of topics from basic biodiversity/ecology to Remote Sensing and GIS.
My research in biogeography explores urbanization and land cover change, impacts of exotic species, as well as how to monitor changes in our global environment. I have researched everything from proper sampling techniques to the impacts of exotic bee species on native pollinators of agricultural crops. The results of my research inform land owners, planners, and conservation agencies about sustainable development and the effects of biodiversity change. My research on the interaction between anthropogenic and natural landscapes complements the expertise present at SFS. I use my background in research, as well as my teaching experience, to help support and promote the important research and learning being done by the students and faculty of SFS.
For more information, please visit my personal website.
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