Terrestrial biodiversity monitoring

This project it sought to develop practical and scientifically robust wildlife survey methods that can be implemented by Indigenous land managers in order to support improved biodiversity conservation outcomes on Indigenous managed lands in northern Australia.

The main method developed was a protocol for the use of motion detection cameras in terrestrial wildlife surveys.  The use of motion detection cameras as a wildlife survey method is growing in popularity among Indigenous and other land management groups across northern Australia. Motion detection cameras are an efficient means of collecting data over long periods of time, with minimal input of labour and minimal stress to the animals being surveyed.

All methods were developed in collaboration with Rangers and Traditional Owners from the Warddeken and Djelk Indigenous Protected Areas in Arnhem Land and at the Indigenous Land Coorperation’s Fish River Station, in the Northern Territory.

Monitoring animals is a valuable tool in planning how to protect them and their environment.  Wildlife surveys can show what species are present in an area and whether populations are declining, stable or growing. This is critical information for land managers to help them better understand the impacts of conservation and other management activities. However, for groups to collect meaningful information with cameras, it is important they use a rigorous standardised method, which will allow them to compare results between different areas and through time.

Scientists worked with Indigenous rangers in the Warddeken and Djelk IPAs and at Fish River Station to trial a variety of survey methods for:

  • motion detection cameras;
  • feral cat tracks in sand plots; and
  • spotlight transects.

The development of the motion detection camera protocol included trialling different deployment designs, including the number of cameras, locations and spread of cameras, length of camera deployment, camera orientation, placement of camera and bait, and types of lures and baits.  Results were also compared to results from simultaneous Elliot and pitfall trapping.

This project has developed a number of survey protocols that are practical for Indigenous Rangers groups in northern Australia and produce scientifically robust information.  In particular the project has developed a protocol for wildlife surveys using motion detection cameras.  The method is documented in a ‘Guide for the use of remote cameras for wildlife survey in northern Australia’ (see tools).   Key aspects of the method are demonstrated in a video on how to set up a camera trap for wildlife surveys (see video above).  Protocols were also developed to monitor feral cat distribution using sand pads and spot light surveys.

This project has given the rangers involved increased practical knowledge about scientific monitoring, assessment and reporting that they can use in managing their land and communicating with other agencies. Overall monitoring program design and most aspects of data management will continue to require support from trained ecologists.

This project has also provided new insights into northern Australian mammal declines and management responses, for example:

  • Small mammal decline occurred in remote regions of Arnhem Land over the same time period as in Kakadu National Park; however it appears to have been more severe in Arnhem Land Plateau, outside of Kakadu National Park.
  • An influx of introduced Black Rats has occurred in the Warddeken and Djelk regions of Arnhem Land coincident with the native mammal decline; however it remains unknown whether Black Rats are part of the cause or simply a symptom.

Project field work happened in the Northern Territory, in the Warddeken and Djelk Indigenous Protected Areas in Arnhem Land, and at the Australian Wildlife Conservancy’s Fish River Station.

Multiple cameras required to reliably detect feral cats in northern Australia tropical savanna: an evaluation of sampling design when using camera traps (journal article)
Critical-weight-range marsupials in northern Australia are declining: a commentary on Fisher et al. (2014) ‘The current decline of tropical marsupials in Australia: is history repeating?’

Global Ecology and Biogeography, Woinarski, JCZ, 2014

Continental-scale governance and the hastening of loss of Australia’s biodiversity

Conservation Biology, Possingham, H, Woinarski, J, 12/2013

Measuring and reporting on conservation management outcomes

CSIRO, Legge, S, Fleming, A, 2012, ISBN: 9780643103573

Monitoring indicates greater resilience for birds than for mammals in Kakadu National Park, northern Australia

Journal Article, Fisher, A, Young, S, Armstrong, M, Brennan, K, Griffiths, AD, Hill, B, J. Choy, L, Milne, D, Stewart, A, Ward, S, Winderlich, S, Ziembicki, M, 2012

Improving biodiversity monitoring

Austral Ecology, Lindenmayer, D, Gibbons, P, Bourke, M, Dickman, CR, Ferrier, S, Fitzsimons, J, Freudenberger, D, Garnett, S, Groves, C, Hobbs, R, Kingsford, RT, Krebs, C, Legge, S, Lowe, AJ, McLean, R, Possingham, H, Radford, J, Robinson, D, Thomas, D, Varcoe, T, Vardon, M, Wardle, G, Woinarski, J, Zerger, A, 05/2012

A guide for the use of remote cameras for wildlife survey in northern Australia

The project was led by Dr Graeme Gillespie, with researchers from Charles Darwin University and the Northern Territory Department of Land Resource Management working in collaboration with Rangers and Traditional land owners from the Warddeken and Djelk Indigenous Protected Areas and the Fish River Station which is managed by the Australian Wildlife Conservancy.

Project Leader:
Dr Graeme Gillespie
Department of Land Resource Management
Northern Territory Government
[email protected]
08 8995 5025