Promising results for malleefowl recovery

Five active malleefowl mounds, discovered in areas previously baited for predators, has sparked hopes of recovery for the threatened species.

The active mounds, found in the Gawler Ranges using state-of-the-art survey technology, is considered promising given local trends have shown a decline in mound activity over recent years.

The malleefowl is a target species of the five-year Bounceback and Beyond program, which is supported by the SA Arid Lands NRM Board through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program.

Particularly vulnerable to introduced predators such as foxes, the malleefowl is being studied to determine the effectiveness of broad scale baiting for the native species. Information collected will contribute to a broader project being undertaken across Australia by the Threatened Species Recovery (TSR) Hub. This project is focussed in areas of malleefowl habitat and aims to better understand the effect of predator control on predator activity and its relationship to malleefowl persistence.

The Bounceback and Beyond program, now in its second year, is expanding the positive work undertaken as part of the Department for Environment and Water’s (DEW) long running Bounceback program which has effectively reduced fox numbers over a decade of aerial baiting in the region.

The malleefowl survey was conducted in early 2019 through the use of Light Imaging Detection and Ranging (LiDAR), also known as 3D laser scanning. The LiDAR technique works by flying an aircraft over an area and illuminating the target (in this case, the ground) with laser light and measuring the reflect light with a sensor. Differences in laser return times and wavelengths are used to make digital 3D representations of the ground.

The distinctive shape of malleefowl mounds made the LiDAR technology highly valuable in assisting scientists to identify potential mounds across large areas in remote locations. Traditionally, these areas would have been covered by groups of people walking the transects. The LiDAR survey was undertaken across baited and unbaited areas and identified 2006 possible malleefowl mounds. Each point was given a rating of 1-4, with 29 sites rated 1 considered most likely to be a malleefowl mound, and those rated 4 considered least likely.

In August a survey team from SA Arid Lands NRM Board ground-truthed 316 points to determine which ones were malleefowl mounds. A 100 per cent success rate was recorded for points given a rating 1 by the LiDAR, with 29 confirmed mounds.

A further 24 sites with a LiDAR rating of 2 produced a 79 per cent success rate, with 19 confirmed mounds. Seven sites rated 3 and 258 rated 4 were also surveyed, none of which were mounds.

Of the total 48 mounds found, two on Gawler Ranges National Park (GRNP) were active, meaning they were being used by a malleefowl to incubate eggs. Another active mound was found outside of the LiDAR transect, also on GRNP, while a fourth active mound was found on Gawler Ranges Conservation Reserve. Another active mound was found at Scrubby Peak in the Gawler Ranges National Park by a member of the National Malleefowl Recovery Team.

SAAL Community Ecologist Cat Lynch said the discovery of five active mounds was particularly pleasing given the dry conditions.

“While the number of mounds we found were not greatly different from baited to unbaited areas, all active mounds were found in baited areas, which suggests there may be a better survival of birds in areas where foxes have been controlled,” she said.

In addition to identifying mounds, the survey team set up monitoring cameras to compare baited and unbaited areas by not only collecting data on malleefowl but also the presence of predators and native and introduced herbivores such as kangaroos and goats.

With ongoing annual monitoring providing more information about the species and its threats over time, it is hoped that this will ultimately aid the malleefowl recovery.