The Desert is Booming at Arid Recovery Annual Trapping

Posted on Posted in Central Australia, furry, Nocturnal, scaly
For one week each February a gang of ecologists and volunteers head for the desert of northern SA to conduct Arid Recovery’s annual trapping. I had a chat to Helen, AR’s resident ecologist and got the wrap-up from this year’s event. But first a little background…
Arid Recovery (AR) is a fully fenced, 123km2 conservation reserve near Roxby Downs in which rabbits, cats and foxes have been eradicated. With the ferals gone locally extinct mammals such as the Greater Bilby, Western-barred Bandicoot and Stick Nest Rat have been reintroduced and re-established. This feral-free environment has also helped other native reptiles and mammals to prosper. Annual trapping is an opportunity to see how they are faring.
Arid Recovery near Roxby Downs in northern South Australia (Photo courtesy of Arid Recovery)

This years trapping was destined to be great. Roxby Downs had 320mm of rain in 2010 – those in the tropics may scoff, but this is double the annual average. Then Cyclone Yasi recently dumped another 138mm in the reserve. The once red sand dunes are green with vegetation. And with plenty of food around small mammals have been breeding like crazy.

To monitor reptiles and small mammals AR use:

Pitfall traps: PVC tubes (pits) dug into the ground with a short mesh fence connecting the pits. Animals walk along the fence and then fall into a pit.

Elliot traps: small metal box traps with a treadle mechanism. These are baited up with oats and peanut butter.

Checking pitfall traps at annual trapping (Photo by K. Jarman)
Traps are checked at dawn and dusk and the haul is brought back to a lab to be weighed and measured. Critters are examined for signs of reproductive success i.e. if pouches are full, teats are being sucked or eggs are seen/felt inside reptiles – times are good!

And times are indeed good inside the reserve. The same sites were last monitored two years ago and the comparison is staggering. The crew captured about 50 times more mammals this year, yes 50 times, that’s not a typo. Interestingly, the reptile captures this year are only 1.3 times higher. So while mammals are enjoying the boom, the cool conditions throughout the year have been less favourable for reptiles.

Bags of small mammals and reptiles ready for processing at the Arid Recovery lab (Photo by K. Jarman)

Helen rattled off the impressive stats for the 2011 trapping session.

  • 5 nights
  • 19 sites, 114 pits, 285 elliot traps
  • 760 man hours
  • 1400 small mammals caught (28 in 2009)
  • 153 reptiles caught (125 in 2009)
  • 25 different species

The desert is definitely in the boom phase of the boom-bust cycle!

If you wish to volunteer for Arid Recovery or become a ‘Friend of Arid Recovery’ check the website for details.

5 thoughts on “The Desert is Booming at Arid Recovery Annual Trapping

    1. Yes Dan, although maths is not my strong suit i’m sure it’s not a typo. The boom is on in arid Australia!

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