MALLEEFOWL ADAPTIVE MANAGEMENT EXPERIMENT IN SOUTH AUSTRALIA
Updated: Feb 28, 2020
Photo: Ecologist Matthew Humphrey checks a
camera in Bakara Conservation Park.
Photo credit: Matthew Turner
South Australia has begun a considerable contribution to the Malleefowl Adaptive Management Experiment. DEWNR Ecologists from the SAMDB NRM Region recognised the value of the experiment, not only for its stated objectives but also the value of the camera trapping survey design associated with Malleefowl mound monitoring grids to provide information on the local activity of a range of native and exotic fauna. Our staff work with landholders across the region to manage public and private land for biodiversity and primary productivity outcomes which often involves decisions made without much locally collected quantitative data on fauna abundance or activity trends. Therefore it was seen as an attractive proposition to be able to contribute to a national scale experiment while gaining valuable insight into what is happening locally across our region. To that end, we have established an array of camera traps in four separate reserves across the SAMDB NRM Region and have enough cameras to set up a further two arrays. Some of our cameras have been deployed for over a year now and data will soon start flowing into the experiment but we have also spent this time refining the processes of deployment, maintenance, data gathering and processing and some of our learnings may be useful to others intending to participate in the experiment. Tim Burnard provided us with a very useful fact sheet for set up of the camera placement as well as the design of the power supply which includes a solar panel and rechargeable battery all mounted on a metal chassis. We used this as the template for our units which were manufactured by a local engineer. This design works very well but we soon found that any exposed wiring was an attractive target for tampering by kangaroos. Several cameras were put out of action when kangaroos pulled at and chewed even the shortest length of exposed wiring including fuse-holders. We’ve now revised our design with all wiring now internalised except for the fuse-holder which needs to be accessible for maintenance. For these we switched to a flush-mounted automotive design screwed to the main pole of the mounting chassis in a position that’s hard to access by animals. Another electrical problem arose from the occasional failed battery. We shopped around for a reliable supplier and also had an external charging point wired into the circuit so that we could use an AC powered charger to ensure batteries had charge before deploying them into the field where they are fully reliant on the solar panel. Positioning in the field and “blank” images Cameras triggered by moving vegetation and shadows is a perennial problem with camera trapping projects and can result in a significant increase in image processing time. Although we tried hard to follow the advice of Joe Benshemesh and Tim Burnard in selecting sites that would minimise this problem, we’ve still had to revisit many of our cameras to adjust their position and aspect to cut down on “blanks”. We found that in most cases, double checking with a compass to ensure our cameras faced south minimised troublesome shadows and adjusting position to minimise the contrast between vegetation canopy and sky cut down on waving branches. However, we had persistent problems with a few cameras. These seemed to be the sites in which spinifex grass (Triodia sp.) was prominent in the scope of the camera. The problem may be related to the movement of spinifex flower stems but problems persisted even when these were all removed. The other hypothesis suggested was the high degree of colour contrast produced by shadows moving across the spinifex as compared to bare ground. Our next move is to slightly reposition all cameras deployed in Triodia-Mallee communities so that the grass is less prominent in the scope of the cameras’ sensors. Our program operates with support from the SAMDB NRM Board and funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program. We also work together with the Murray Mallee Local Action Planning Association, BirdLife Australia Gluepot Reserve and Australian Landscape Trust.