Public survey to assist platypus study

February 13, 2013

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Dr James Macgregor examining a platypus in the field

A Murdoch University researcher who is investigating the threats to wild platypus populations in North West Tasmania is appealing to the general public to note their sightings of the iconic mammals in a survey.

Vet Dr James Macgregor from the School of Veterinary and Life SciencesConservation Medicine Program is gathering information about the distribution and abundance of platypuses in the Inglis River catchment specifically.

The information collected in the survey will be related to the results of Dr Macgregor’s field study of the same area and will be compared with the findings of similar surveys completed elsewhere in Tasmania and mainland Australia.

“Platypuses are very secretive animals and very little is known about their distribution and abundance at a catchment level,” said Dr Macgregor, who is based in Tasmania.

“We are looking for members of the public to let us know about their sightings of platypuses in 2012 only and also to pinpoint the water bodies where they’ve seen them, as well as the water bodies which don’t seem to have any platypuses.

“This will help us to understand more about this creature’s population density in the Inglis River catchment.”

Last year, Dr Macgregor and a team of researchers captured and microchipped around 100 of the semi-aquatic creatures in the Inglis River catchment; in all subcatchments and at all levels of the catchment. They placed microchip readers throughout the waterways to detect them and other platypuses microchipped in previous studies to learn more about their movements.

They aim to develop a comprehensive framework for researchers to use to properly assess the health of platypus populations all over Australia.

“We know what many of the threats to platypuses are but we have little idea of how they actually impact platypus populations,” said Dr Macgregor. “For example, the emerging platypus fungal disease mucormycosis, which has only been found in Tasmania, causes nasty skin lesions and can be fatal.

“We’re aiming to provide information on normal platypus health, such as their longevity and reproductive health, as well as the factors which lead to sickness and death in the creatures.”

Members of the public who would like to take part in the platypus survey can download a questionnaire here. This form is also available from Wynyard Veterinary Clinic, or by contacting Dr Macgregor directly on 0487 979 213/platypusproject@hotmail.com.

Completed questionnaires should be returned to Dr Macgregor at Wynyard Veterinary Clinic or PO Box 652, Wynyard, 7325 by April 30, 2013.

Dr Macgregor’s 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:  Winifred Violet Scott Estate, Caring For Our Country Community Action Grant, Central North Field Naturalists, Holsworth Wildlife Research Endowment, National Geographic Society, Cradle Coast Natural Resource Management, Tasmanian Alkaloids, Australian Geographic Society, the Forestry Practices Authority, Edward Alexander Weston and Iris Evelyn Fernie Research Fund (or Weston Fernie Research Fund).

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