- Charles Sturt University academics create artificial bark covers to survey reptiles
- Dr Damian Michael has been surveying tree-dwelling species at wetlands along the Murrumbidgee River
- Four species of reptiles, two species of frogs, one microbat plus numerous insects have been using the artificial covers
It is a question that has plagued researchers for decades – how do you survey animals that typically like to remain hidden?
A team of Charles Sturt University researchers from the University’s Institute for Land, Water and Society believe they have developed a solution.
“Across the wetlands there are several tree-dwelling species, such as geckoes and tree skinks, which live under the bark of river red gums; however, they are difficult to survey without removing the bark from the tree or spotlighting them during the night,” Dr Michael said.
His team has deployed artificial bark covers (ABCs), a yoga mat with a silver back, fastened to the tree with an elastic strap.
The strap can be undone and the cover peeled back to allow for easy hand-capture of the geckoes and skinks sheltering underneath the artificial cover.
Dr Michael said 112 ABCs were set up in August 2019 in 14 wetland sites across the team’s observation area.
Four species of reptiles and two species of frogs have been found using the covers – the southern marbled gecko, the tree dtella gecko, the tree skink and the ragged snake-eye skink, the Peron’s tree frog, and the threatened southern bell frog.
The aim of the study is to determine whether using artificial bark covers is effective for surveying arboreal reptiles in a floodplain system and to better understand the distribution of the arboreal species across the floodplain, as well as model their habitat use and occupancy patterns.
“Conserving these reptiles is important because they contribute to the broader ecological food web by feeding on invertebrates, and they themselves are food for other animals,” Dr Michael said.
Charles Sturt Bachelor of Animal Science (Honours) student from the School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences Ms Eva Moore is using the data collected to evaluate their habitat and model occupancy patterns of those species.
Dr Michael said the methodology could be adapted to use across the Murray-Darling Basin.