The Alligator Rivers yellow chat is a small, bright yellow insectivorous bird of the Kakadu floodplains. This Endangered species is imperilled by habitat
changes caused by altered fire regimes, buffalo and feral pigs, rising sea levels and the spread of weeds like prickly mimosa and introduced grasses.
What has been happening to degrade these floodplains has been equally of concern to Traditional Owners as to yellow chat researchers. Charles Darwin
University PhD candidate Robin Leppitt is celebrating the completion of field work, and has news to share.
Survey sites and sacred places
I first obtained permission from the Traditional Owners, including Victor Cooper and Sean Nadji, to work on the Country. People had concerns about the invasive animals and weeds that were not only threatening the yellow chat but also damaging sacred places on the floodplains and making it harder to hunt for bush foods. Many of the survey sites are also important hunting and collecting sites. In response to their interest I collected additional data on these threats across the floodplains.
Roy and Harold are Traditional Owners from other parts of the Top End, but their wives are Alligator Rivers Traditional Owners. Working with them was really valuable to the project as it helped me access areas of the floodplain and also better understand local views about how the floodplains were used and how they should be managed.
Donna Belder and Harold Goodman setting up a mist-net to catch chats for leg banding. Image: Robin Leppitt
In addition to identifying the whereabouts and abundance of yellow chats, we were interested in discovering more about the chat’s preferred habitat, investigating their favourite types of vegetation and how they are affected by different fire regimes and feral animals.
Our preliminary results indicate that yellow chats like channels and depressions in unburnt areas of the floodplain that have old, deteriorating sesbania bushes. Sesbania is an annual, low-growing flowering shrub native to the Kakadu region. Unfortunately, these channels and depressions also attract feral pigs, which dig in the mud, often destroying the vegetation that the yellow chats forage among.
Our work also involved trapping and banding individuals, not only to help determine numbers but also to take some feathers for genetic analysis so we can compare the DNA of the Alligator Rivers yellow chat with its two sister subspecies. This will allow us to determine how much genetic variation exists within the Alligator Rivers population and also give an indication of how genetically distinct the three subspecies are from one another.
The floodplains which the Alligator Rivers yellow chat lives upon are all coastal and all just a few meters above sea level. Perhaps most alarmingly, any significant rise in sea level will have vast impacts upon not only yellow chats but the entire ecosystem. How the floodplains respond to sea level rise will be key in determining the future of this tiny yellow bird.
Harold Goodman, Laura Dreyfus and Robin Leppitt in an all-terrain vehicle en route to a survey site on the South Alligator River floodplain in Kakadu in October 2018. Image: Robin Leppitt
For further information
Robin Leppitt - email@example.com
Top image: A male Alligator Rivers yellow chat. Image: Keith Lightbody
Karajarri Rangers are leading a Threatened Species Recovery Hub research project to investigate how different fire management approaches affect biodiversity. The first field trip took place in April this year, when a team of 16 rangers, support staff and scientists journeyed to the Edgar Ranges for eight days of wildlife monitoring. Hub researcher Sarah Legge worked with the rangers to compile this report from the field.
Cissy Gore-Birch is a member of the Threatened Species Recovery Hub’s steering committee and the Chair of its Indigenous Reference Group. The Indigenous Reference Group was established to assist hub leaders and project teams to strengthen the engagement and participation of Indigenous people in the hub’s activities and research projects. Cissy recently attended the Species of the Desert Festival on the Paruku Indigenous Protected Area, where she spoke about both threatened and culturally important species, and increasing the voice of Indigenous people in environmental policies and research.
Dr Sally Box, the Australian Government’s Threatened Species Commissioner, talks about the importance of working with Indigenous groups to conserve Australia’s threatened species.
Researchers from the Threatened Species Recovery Hub are calling on citizen scientists to help them learn more about Australia’s possums and gliders by recording sightings in a new, free app. Dr Rochelle Steven from the University of Queensland is passionate about Australia’s possums and gliders and believes people in the community can do a lot to help support conservation, especially in urban areas.
There are 27 different types of possums and gliders in Australia. They have a huge variety of sizes, shapes and appearances. We’ve compiled a profile on every species here. One quarter of our possums and gliders are listed as threatened under Australian environmental law. Help their conservation, be a citizen scientist: you can record sightings of possums from your local areas in the free 'CAUL Urban Wildlife App'.