The threats to wild platypus populations including disease and habitat degradation are currently being investigated by a Murdoch University researcher.
James Macgregor from the School of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences’ Conservation Medicine Program says there are several key gaps of knowledge about the health of platypuses which need to be addressed including the causes of mortality, locations of breeding sites and the relationship between environmental factors and health.
“Our aim is to develop a comprehensive framework for researchers to use to properly assess the health of platypus populations all over Australia,” said Mr Macgregor, who is based in Tasmania.
“Although we know what many of the threats to platypuses are, we have little idea of how they actually impact populations. This includes the emerging platypus fungal disease mucormycosis which has only been found in Tasmania. The disease causes nasty skin lesions and can be fatal.
“We are aiming to provide new information on normal platypus health as well as the factors which lead to sickness and death in the creatures. We’ll be monitoring the movements of the platypuses we’ve microchipped via antennae we’ll be planting in their habitat. And ultrasound examinations of platypuses should give us insights into which locations are preferred by platypuses for breeding.
“Hopefully the framework we develop will become a vital tool for monitoring platypus populations so that we can ensure the future of this extraordinary animal in its natural habitat.”
As part of the proposed framework, Mr Macgregor will be developing new ultrasound techniques to assess the reproductive health of the animals. He’ll also be using remote microchip readers to detect platypuses microchipped in previous studies to help with investigations into their longevity.
In 2013, the general public will be enlisted to help with the study. Mr Macgregor will carry out a survey of their sightings over the course of six months to help measure population density.
His project is being conducted in collaboration with the University of Tasmania, Charles Sturt University, the University of Sydney, the Tasmanian Forest Practices Authority and Diagnostic Veterinary Imaging in Bentley, Western Australia.
It is being funded by: Caring For Our Country Community Action Grant, Central North Field Naturalists, Holsworth Wildlife Research Endowment, Cradle Coast Natural Resource Management, Tasmanian Alkaloids, the Forestry Practices Authority, Edward Alexander Weston and Iris Evelyn Fernie Research Fund (or Weston Fernie Research Fund).