As a kid I spent a lot of time after school down the river with my blue heeler Blossom. We’d roam river edges looking for bunny holes, duck nests and new
swimming spots and come home muddy and happy. While my old friend and those days are long gone, sometimes I find myself checking a pitfall trap in
the rain with my face in the dirt and feeling like not much has changed.
At uni I liked zoology because we got to go outside. I did honours in reptile physiology, and while I loved the lizards and found learning about their physiology oddly satisfying (like solving a puzzle), I discovered that lab work and I weren’t meant to be. I also really wanted to work on projects I felt contributed as directly as possible to the conservation of threatened species.
After graduating I interned with the Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) in the Kimberley region. I worked in a team trapping small mammals, reptiles and frogs as part of AWC’s annual biodiversity survey on their sanctuaries over north-western Australia. I met some creative, funny and driven ecologists like Sarah Legge and Katherine Tuft, and I began to hope for such a future for myself.
Sarah helped me secure a PhD project on one of AWC’s north Kimberley sanctuaries called the Artesian Range. The range is home to many species of small mammal that have disappeared from other parts of northern Australia, and for my PhD I set about trying to understand why they’d persisted there. It’s a remote and beautiful part of the world, with big rugged escarpments and gorges surrounding dense pockets of rainforest. We lived under a tarp through two wet seasons trapping scaly-tailed possums and golden-backed tree rats and looking at their habitat preferences and resource requirements.
We found that many arboreal mammals rely on fruiting trees and rainforest pockets – and both resources are unfortunately susceptible to intense fires that in the past 30 years have been increasingly frequent in the region. The rugged landscape of the Artesian Range has helped protect these resources from fire, and may have thus helped some small mammals persist there.
Rosemary Hohnen (left) and Laura O’Connor measuring animals caught during surveys on Kangaroo Island. Image: Megan Barnes
For the past two years I have been working on a project investigating how the Endangered Kangaroo Island dunnart might respond to broadscale feral cat control. Studying this small carnivorous marsupial has been a lesson in the reality of working with threatened species. When researching such species that are found in low numbers over a restricted area, you have to be stubborn and resourceful, and work hard for a small amount of data. Every bit collected has helped us better understand the dunnart’s current distribution, how to best monitor it, what the main threats are, and what we can do about them. Feral cats appear at high densities in some areas where the dunnart persists, so monitoring the dunnart population, and controlling cats may help the species persist in the long term.
I’ve loved the opportunity to work with a close-knit and caring island community. It has also been great to learn more about island conservation, which seems a powerful tool for pushing back againstsmall mammal extinctions in Australia.
For further information
Rosemary Hohnen - email@example.com
Top image: Rosemary firefighting in the Kimberley in 2016. Image: Toby Barton
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'.