I first arrived at Carnarvon Station Reserve in mid-July, only a few weeks after accepting a PhD project, which is a collaboration between The University of Queensland, and Bush Heritage Australia.
After a 12-hour drive from Brisbane (the final 4 hours on a dirt road) I realised as I pulled up at the homestead that this place had to be one of the most remote reserves I’d ever visited. I couldn’t have been more thrilled! How lucky I am to be doing my PhD in this spectacular location.
My PhD is focused on how fire, landform and land use affect the small vertebrates in the area.
In late September I returned to Carnarvon Station Reserve to collect my first round of data. With the help of six wonderful Bush Heritage volunteers, ecologists Rebecca Diete and Pippa Kern, and intern Tash Richards, we set up 180 pitfall traps (which involves digging 1.8 km of trenches for drift fences!), and set up 60 camera traps in the field to monitor the vertebrate species throughout the reserve.
We also took measurements of ground cover, leaf litter and above-ground biomass at each of our 20 sites.
While we worked hard and the days were long, we also took the time to stop and enjoy Carnarvon’s many escarpment lookouts and some beautiful sunsets. The native peas are in bloom at the moment and made for a spectacular view as the sun was going down.
Once our pitfall traps were open there were several species of feisty, furry mammals to look at – our most common catch was the Narrow-nose Planigale (Planigale tenuirostris). It was unusually cold for September but we saw plenty of bearded dragons (Pogona barbata) about, as well as several species of skink, gecko and legless lizard like the Collared Delma (Delma torquata) and the Burton’s Legless Lizard (Lialis burtonis).
The data collected from this trip will help inform the type of camera trap best suited to detecting small reptiles and mammals, and which habitat types and features are correlated with higher diversity and densities of small vertebrates.
I’m looking forward to seeing what species were caught on camera at the 20 sites in coming weeks and I'm already beginning preparations for my next trip out. The next step for me will be establishing more sites in the future as I look at the effects of fire and grazing on small vertebrate species in the greater Carnarvon landscape.
Miranda Rew-Duffy is a PhD Candidate at the University of Queensland