Platypus populations in Queensland: their distribution, health and threats

Background

The platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) is a semi-aquatic mammal, endemic to Australia.  It is found within freshwater ecosystems along the eastern coast from Tasmania to Cooktown in Queensland (Carrick et al. 2008).  Although the platypus has had a similar distribution since European settlement, localised declines have been recorded and it is now listed as ‘near threatened’.  Information on population trends is limited and further investigations are crucial for this long-lived species (Woinarski and Burbridge 2016).  The main threatening processes impacting upon platypus populations are urbanisation and agriculture which results in habitat degradation (i.e. erosion, sedimentation, declines in water quality) and habitat fragmentation (i.e. loss of connectivity between catchments), and decline in movement between populations. 

In Queensland there has been limited research compared to other states, which puts this species at risk of a decline going unnoticed.  Effective conservation requires a balanced approach that includes habitat protection and knowledge of natural history and viability of the species (Allendorf et al. 2013).  Therefore research needs to determine platypus population distribution, health and threats within Queensland.  It will identify areas requiring more rigorous conservation efforts to reduce the risk of the species declining and local extinctions.

Aims

  • Determine and compare past and current distributions of platypuses within Queensland
  • Determine individual population abundance, health and viability; and the genetic fitness, relatedness, and connectivity of individual populations
  • Determine the impacts of human processes on platypus habitat requirements and diet availability
  • Identify and compare land use between catchments and any correlated negative impacts on platypus populations
  • Inform policy and practices to better support/manage platypus to ensure rigorous conservation efforts reduce the risk of the species declining and local extinctions
Fyke nets and platypus

Methodology

Historical and current platypus records will be collected to determine current geographical distribution of platypus in Queensland.  Suitable locations will be chosen to survey platypus within the state.  Multiple survey methods, including collection of observational survey data, environmental DNA (eDNA), live trapping (e.g. fyke nets) and genetic analysis, in conjunction with habitat, and diet assessments will be undertaken across Queensland.

 

Expected outcomes

This research will determine any decline in the size and number of platypus populations, and health of individuals and their habitat.  It will also determine any negative impacts from land use practices that can be reassessed and changed to be sustainable for both landholders and as platypus habitat.

The conservation status of platypus within Queensland will be better understood and future management strategies for individual catchment regions can be implemented.

Platypus are an important species to promote and conserve as they are a flagship species for freshwater ecosystems and biodiversity.  The Hidden Vale project highlights the importance of biodiversity and sustainability between different land use systems of which platypuses are a part.  Linking biodiversity corridors with the waterways in the Scenic Rim region will be beneficial for platypus habitat requirements and future platypus recolonisation into the area.  Such a project can safe guard this species into the future.

References

Allendorf, FW, Luikart, G, and Aitken, SN 2013, Conservation and the genetics of populations, Wiley-Blackwell, Chichester, West Sussex.

Carrick, FN, Grant, TR and Temple-Smith, PD 2008. ‘Family Ornithorhynchidae: Platypus’, in S. Van Dyck and R. Strahan (eds), The mammals of Australia, 3rd edn, Reed New Holland, Sydney, pp. 32-35.

Woinarski, J and Burbidge, AA 2016, Ornithorhynchus anatinus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016; e.T40488A21964009. Viewed 5th June 2016.

 

Project members

Tamielle Brunt

PhD Student
School of Agriculture and Food Sciences

Dr Christine Adams-Hosking

The Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland

Josh Griffith

Senior Ecologist
cesar

Associate Professor Peter Murray

Associate Professor
School of Agriculture and Food Sciences