On­go­ing fight for sur­vival

The Weekly Advertiser Horsham - - News - BY LOTTE REITER

Our na­tional parks are home to some of our most trea­sured cul­tural riches, and we must look af­ter them.

An Aus­tralian icon, the platy­pus is em­blem­atic of the unique wildlife we have in our re­gion.

But a re­search sci­en­tist study­ing a platy­pus pop­u­la­tion in the Macken­zie River fears for the long-term sur­vival of the species in the Wim­mera amid dry con­di­tions.

The Macken­zie River in the north­ern Grampians has long been an iso­lated out­post for the monotreme, and se­nior wildlife ecologist Josh Grif­fiths said platy­puses, de­spite their iconic rep­u­ta­tion, faced a tough up­hill fight in the fu­ture.

“There’s one species of platy­pus and there’s noth­ing else like them in the world,” he said.

“That’s why we need to look af­ter them. But un­for­tu­nately, like us, they de­pend on wa­ter. That puts us in com­pe­ti­tion with them for what is prob­a­bly the most pre­cious re­source on the planet at the mo­ment.

“So, it is scary what is go­ing to hap­pen in terms of cli­mate change in the fu­ture, be­cause these wa­ter­ways are prob­a­bly go­ing to dry up ev­ery sum­mer.”

Mr Grif­fiths is in the Wim­mera as part of a Wim­mera Catch­ment Man­age­ment Author­ity sam­pling of the Macken­zie River for mi­cro­scopic signs that the platy­pus pop­u­la­tion is con­tin­u­ing to ex­pand.

Ear­lier this week, he be­gan EDNA sam­pling, a pro­cess which in­volved analysing wa­ter sam­ples for cel­lu­lar traces of aquatic life.

Re­searchers will also at­tempt to back up the data with a live cap­ture, prefer­ably a ju­ve­nile, to in­di­cate that there has been an­other year of re­cruit­ment.

Mr Grif­fiths said rel­a­tively new pro­cesses such as EDNA sam­pling were cru­cial to long-term work to re­verse degra­da­tion and en­sure platy­puses re­main within our fu­ture ecosys­tems.

“Peo­ple have prob­a­bly seen re­ports com­ing out about the mas­sive ex­tinc­tion cri­sis we are go­ing through at the mo­ment, and for me that’s just com­pletely un­ac­cept­able,” he said.

“I want platy­puses to be here for an­other 50, 100 years, and the more I can help them with that the bet­ter.

“It is just that no one ac­tu­ally knows what is go­ing on with them be­cause they are so dif­fi­cult to study.

“Be­fore EDNA came along you couldn’t do any­thing over the broad scale. Now, with the EDNA project we’re do­ing across Aus­tralia, we’ll fi­nally be able to an­swer some of those ques­tions around, ‘should they be listed as en­dan­gered?’ and be able to give hard ev­i­dence about what we need to do to pro­tect them.”

The na­tion-wide EDNA project will in­te­grate platy­pus data from about 2000 sites in Aus­tralia, pro­vid­ing ev­i­dence of what is af­fect­ing the pop­u­la­tion and help­ing change leg­is­la­tion and poli­cies.

Mr Grif­fiths said this would be a ma­jor step ahead of the ‘em­bar­rass­ing un­knowns we cur­rently face re­gard­ing platy­puses and their vul­ner­a­ble pop­u­la­tion’.

“They are a na­tional icon and it is em­bar­rass­ing we don’t know enough about them,” he said.

“But all the signs are say­ing that af­ter a pretty sig­nif­i­cant de­cline, the pop­u­la­tion here is slowly re­cov­er­ing and that’s as much as we can hope for at this stage.”

Wim­mera Catch­ment Man­age­ment Author­ity pro­grams mea­sur­ing wa­ter­way con­di­tions and en­vi­ron­men­tal flows have been among key man­age­ment ac­tiv­i­ties sup­port­ing Wim­mera platy­puses.

Mr Grif­fith’s said these projects, as well as a di­ver­sion weir down­stream of the Grampian’s Na­tional Park, en­abled the pop­u­la­tion to grow and be­come health­ier.

And while the jour­ney will be long and un­prece­dented, he said he hoped to see the pop­u­la­tion ex­pand enough that platy­puses would re­turn to the Wim­mera River.

“Ul­ti­mately this is a source pop­u­la­tion to try and re­colonise other ar­eas,” he said.

“But to do that we need to make sure this area is pro­tected, the pop­u­la­tion is healthy enough and they’re breed­ing hap­pily.

“This is a very small, vul­ner­a­ble pop­u­la­tion, but it is on the up­ward trend which is re­ally en­cour­ag­ing.”

TEST­ING THE WA­TERS: Wildlife ecologist Josh Grif­fiths takes an EDNA sam­ple of wa­ter in Macken­zie River in the Grampians as part of Wim­mera Catch­ment Man­age­ment Author­ity’s platy­pus sur­veys. Pic­ture: LOTTE REITER

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