New tools and technologies helping wildlife conservation

October 6, 2017

Public lecture: Ecologist to speak about new tools helping scientists study wildlife from afar

A Murdoch University researcher who is developing tools to study Australian wildlife from afar, will be showcasing her work in a public lecture at the Perth campus on Monday.

Ecologist Dr Margaret Andrew from the School of Veterinary and Life Sciences, combines satellite and aerial imagery with advanced analytical tools to inform her research into important habitats, such as the Abrolhos Islands, off the coast of Western Australia.

This approach, known as remote sensing, allows researchers to easily collect large amounts of data – even in areas that are difficult or dangerous to access – and is more efficient than time-consuming onground sampling.  It can even allow researchers to go back in time – through the use of valuable archives of historical data that stretch back decades into the past.

Most recently Dr Andrew has published findings about mapping microrefugia, which are defined as small sites featuring stable habitat that support populations of species like bats, lizards and small mammals during times when more extensive surrounding habitat has been lost, due to adverse climatic conditions or bushfires.

She says conservationists are interested in the potential of microrefugia to assist with climate change resilience and adaptation for animals and birds, because they relax the migration distances required for some species to find suitable habitat, while providing pockets of ideal habitat for other species. But there is little information on how to identify them so they can be studied and protected.

“To protect microrefugia now and in the future, we must know where they are,” said Dr Andrew.

“We found we could detect microrefugia in remote areas of Western Australia using images from Landsat satellites.

“From these images, we could assess the quality of the habitat and see how stable the microrefugia were in differing weather conditions from year to year.”

Dr Andrew said the tools could be used to inform wildlife monitoring programs like the Citizen Science Program of the Conservation Council of WA. This program is surveying wildlife in the Charles Darwin Reserve, located about 400km north east of Perth

“They found that a number of species were almost never being observed by its monitoring program, and usually only in good years with plenty of rainfall,” said Dr Andrew.  “They suspect that the species have retreated to microrefugia during drought years, but don’t know where they are.

“One of the goals of this work was to provide insights into where the microrefugia are likely to be located in these landscapes, so they can include them in their samples and get more useful information for their population monitoring program.

“The CCWA are now establishing long term monitoring stations at some of the candidate refugia sites identified by my work.”

Dr Andrew said the new mapping tools can also help conservation managers prioritise specific sites for conservation actions in order to help species with climate change adaptation.

The study was published in the journal Remote Sensing of Environment, and can be viewed here.

Dr Andrew’s public lecture in the Kim E Beazley Lecture Theatre at 6pm on Monday is the first in a new series of public lectures by Murdoch University academics on the theme of ‘human contact’.

Tickets for the presentation are free, but please RSVP to secure your place here.

More information about future public lectures can be found here.

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