Science in the desert: Ethabuka Day 2

about  Ethabuka 
on 02 May 2016 

Science in the desert: Ethabuka Day 2

Since 1990, the University of Sydney has used pitfall traps to understand which mammals and reptiles live on the reserve.

The Desert Ecology Group follows strict protocols on the humane and ethical treatment of animals. Researchers hold a research permit approved by the university’s Animal Ethics Committee - a requirement under the New South Wales Animal Research Act 1985.

We check the traps early in the morning, so that animals aren’t stressed by the heat of the day. Pitfall traps (60cm deep, 16cm diameter) are deep enough to provide morning shade for nocturnal animals… and to prevent hopping mice from escaping! A flywire drift-fence (30cm high, 2.5m on each side of the pitfall) helps guide critters towards the hole. The bottom of the pit is lined with flywire so animals don’t dig their way out.

We collect trapped animals and take a DNA sample and record their ‘vital stats’: their size, sex, reproductive status and, for some species, their tail width. Animals are marked before being released at the point of capture, and scurrying away under the spikey spinifex. 

There are 36 traps in each ‘grid’, and they’re opened for 1-6 nights and sampled every 2-3 months. The result? Data!

This data helps to answer important questions like: How many species are on Ethabuka? How long do they live for? How far do they travel? And how do animals respond to drought, abundant rainfall and fire?

Best of all, all of the information gathered by the University of Sydney is publicly available!