Malleefowl Forum Proceedings now online

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In September 2014, the Malleefowl Adaptive Management team visited Dubbo to participate in the National Malleefowl Forum. Recently the Forum Proceedings have been published online, so you can access information on every presentation and poster contributed.

Our team was given a full session to present all the research driving the Adaptive Management project. In the first paper, I provided an overview of how we are applying adaptive management principles to Malleefowl conservation through a nested set of scientific studies.

Mike Bode followed up with an introduction to the qualitative ecosystem modelling that we’re using to collate data and expert opinion. It helps to prioritise threats to Malleefowl persistence and conservation actions that show promise for addressing those threats.

José Lahoz-Monfort developed an experimental design and power analysis that we can use to monitor one particular threat-action pair drawn from Bode’s options: baiting to reduce fox predation. His approach relies primarily on the monitoring data already being collected nation-wide and stored on a national database.

Finally, our recently graduated Master student Rosanna van Hespen, then just starting out on her degree, discussed the potential for motion-triggered cameras to supplement the existing monitoring data and Lahoz-Monfort’s analysis by observing changes in fox activity.

Our work has progressed substantially in the almost-2 years since we made these presentations and we’re keen to release updates into the peer-reviewed research literature very soon! Get in touch if any facets of this project spark your interest.

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Hauser C.E., Bode M., Rumpff L., Lahoz-Monfort J.J., Benshemesh J., Burnard T., van Hespen R. & Wintle B. (2016) Applying adaptive management principles to Malleefowl conservation. Proceedings of the 5th National Malleefowl Forum pp 210-215.

Bode M., Rumpff L., Benshemesh J., Burnard T., Lahoz-Monfort J., van Hespen R., Hauser C. & Wintle B. (2016) Predicting Malleefowl dynamics using decision theory and qualitative ecosystem modelling. Proceedings of the 5th National Malleefowl Forum pp 223-236.

Lahoz-Monfort J.J. & Hauser C.E. (2016) Analysing the effects of ongoing and historical fox control on Malleefowl population viability. Proceedings of the 5th National Malleefowl Forum pp 216-220.

van Hespen R., Hauser C.E., Lahoz-Monfort J.J. & Rumpff L. (2016) Camera trap analysis of mallee wildlife. Proceedings of the 5th National Malleefowl Forum pp 221-222.

 

Malleefowl workshops, Perth & Mildura

PerthWorkshopMy flight from Tokyo had barely landed before I set off for Perth with the malleefowl adaptive management research team (including Mike Bode, José Lahoz-Monfort, Tim Burnard and Joe Benshemesh). We’re embarking on an ambitious landscape-scale experiment to help understand the role of foxes in malleefowl conservation. While we know that foxes do take malleefowl eggs, juveniles and occasionally even adult birds, is this predation a key threat to malleefowl persistence? And furthermore, is baiting an effective tool for mitigating any impacts that foxes may have on malleefowl?

IMG_8540_cropOur approach is to speak to land managers across Australia who are monitoring malleefowl populations. In Western Australia, they include mining companies, DPaW, an Indigenous Protected Area and NGOs like Bush Heritage Australia and the Australian Wildlife Conservancy.

We’re finding out who is baiting, who isn’t, and what sites are sufficiently similar to be compared. José’s initial analysis of historical malleefowl data suggests suggests that we’d need at least ten site pairs monitored over at least 5 years to pick up a plausible difference in malleefowl breeding between baited and unbaited locations. This workshop setting allowed us to get to know the specific sites, their management contexts and their malleefowl populations better, working out what kind of monitoring is feasible and potential barriers for inclusion.

MilduraWorkshopA week later we moved on to Mildura (this time with Rosanna van Hespen in tow) to meet land managers spanning New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia and representing OEH NSW, Parks NSW, the Western LLS, Parks Victoria, DEWNR SA, Federation University, the Australian Wildlife Conservancy, the VMRG and private properties. There were many more people and sites to get to know. We also had some important conversations about fox monitoring – how can we develop reliable indicators of fox density, activity or predation? Rosanna’s research project will offer important new insights into the capacity of motion-triggered cameras for detecting differences in fox activity across sites.

IMG_8607_colourArmed with all this new information, we can also refine José’s original power analysis to reflect the unique characteristics of each monitored malleefowl site. We’ll be working on ways to analyse data as they come in over the years, and new modules for the National Malleefowl Database to share what we learn with the malleefowl conservation community. We’re grateful that so many of its members are sharing their knowledge with us and entertaining the possibilities offered by this major collaborative project.

National Malleefowl Forum, Dubbo

MalleefowlWorkshopEarlier this month the 5th National Malleefowl Forum was held in Dubbo, NSW. Mike Bode, Libby Rumpff, Rosanna van Hespen and I were there to represent the QAEco malleefowl research team. In fact, we made the most of this gathering of experts and enthusiasts by holding a small workshop to develop our malleefowl ecosystem models further. Mike has been translating the network structures formed during the project’s first workshop into literally millions of possible models with varying interaction strengths. In this second iteration we sought to refine this set of models with our experts using their knowledge of the mallee ecosystem.

Mike proposed activities that centred around completing worksheets and evaluating graphs, and I must admit I felt skeptical that we’d effectively capture the interest and knowledge of our participants in this way. I was proven completely wrong – look at ’em all working studiously in that top photo! We made time for talking too, of course, but this original exercise ensured that everybody – not just the loudest or most confident participants – made a major contribution. I think the other great feature of Mike’s approach was that it first invited participants to reject any proposed models that looked implausible, rather than requesting that they compose relationships from scratch. No-one was stuck staring at a blank page, and the rejection exercise built up some familiarity with the kind of model outputs we are interested in. Our experts were in precisely the right frame of mind to create their own graphs and identify any gaps in our work during the afternoon group sessions.

MalleefowlForumThe Forum proper attracted over one hundred attendees from right across the country. Malleefowl are monitored nationally by volunteers, government agencies, mining companies, land holders, researchers and private consultants so the Forum is an important venue for communication across contexts. It’s a place to learn about malleefowl population trends across the country as well as conservation activities (such as captive breeding and feral animal control), technological developments (including LiDAR to detect mallefowl mounds and motion-sensing camera monitoring), Indigeneous knowledge and collaboration, and research findings (Taneal Cope’s genetic research and Jemima Connell’s fire modelling were highlights).

IMG_4251_colourcropNational co-ordinator Tim Burnard and malleefowl ecologist Joe Benshemesh cheekily summed up the Forum with a horrendogram that might have been inspired by our research team’s complicated ecosystem models. It did serve to highlight the diversity of skills, tools and institutions involved in malleefowl conservation across Australia – the Forum committee did well to capture them all into the same room at the same time.

IMG_4290_cropFlying from Dubbo to Melbourne involves a stopover in Sydney, and I snuck in a couple of hours at the Art Gallery of New South Wales on my way home. Here I was delighted to discover Mallee in halflight by Pablo Byass among the finalists for the 2014 Wynne Prize. The artist wrote that he eventually developed a fondness for the mallee through his mother. I have to credit an entire community of committed and knowledgeable mallee and malleefowl enthusiasts for sharing this landscape with me.

Exploring Wyperfeld National Park

VMRG training weekendRecently José, Guru and I returned to Wyperfeld National Park for the annual VMRG training weekend (you can read José’s account of our trip here and my summary of last year’s gathering here). It was great to reconnect with many familiar faces, receive updates on the monitoring program and get acquainted with the data logging devices.

IMG_8529We stuck around Wyperfeld for an extra 24 hours to get to know the park better in the context of our kangaroo-vegetation management project. We were privileged to have acting Ranger-in-Charge Dave Christian as our guide. He’s worked in the Mallee Parks for almost 30 years and I’d wager that what he doesn’t know about Wyperfeld and its management isn’t worth knowing! It was incredibly informative to ‘meet’ the buloke and slender Cypress pines that Parks Victoria are working to regenerate and to get a feel for the management operations on ground.

While I didn’t capture any photos of the Major Mitchell’s cockatoos or the regent parrots that we spotted, I’ve got plenty of other images to share.

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Mounds abound

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I recently took a holiday in north Queensland and discovered some malleefowl-like incubator mounds in the rainforest!

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They belong to orange footed scrubfowl, and we saw many of them scratching around in pairs near the Dubuji boardwalk at Cape Tribulation. I was surprised to hear from Mike D’Arcy that multiple pairs may work the same mound simultaneously. Though they are apparently quite territorial, these scrubfowl seem a good deal more sociable and less cryptic than the malleefowl I’m researching.

Malleefowl reporting back weekend, Ouyen

Malleefowl enthusiasts and Ouyen locals gather for a public information session
Malleefowl enthusiasts and Ouyen locals gather for a public information session

The Victorian malleefowl monitoring season is bookended by a volunteer training weekend and a reporting back weekend. The most recent reporting back session was held late in March in the town of Ouyen; José, Guru and I were able to head along for an update.

Malleefowl have generated some broader community interest this summer as they were seen in unprecedented numbers along the Ouyen-Patchewollock road, mostly likely attracted to a canola seed spill. On the weekend, the Victorian Malleefowl Recovery Group (VMRG) arranged a public information session where Dr Joe Benshemesh discussed the recent sightings, malleefowl behaviours and their conservation.

Parks Victoria Ranger Kathryn Schneider and Victoria Malleefowl Recovery Group chairman Peter Stokie unveil the new malleefowl information sign
Kathryn Schneider and Peter Stokie unveil the new malleefowl information signs

Ralph Patford and other VMRG members have been working hard over summer to arrange and erect malleefowl information signs at some of the more highly-frequented spots around the mallee. Parks Victoria Environment Program Manager for the Mallee Kathryn Schneider and VMRG chairman Peter Stokie had the honour of unveiling them.

Joe Benshemesh summarises the season's monitoring data
Joe Benshemesh summarises the season’s monitoring data

For the remainder of the afternoon we packed into the Ouyen Harness Racing Club to review the season’s activities in more detail. 82 people contributed almost 1500 person hours’ work, monitoring 1300 mounds across Victoria’s north-west. Breeding numbers were very high this summer, although some observations indicate that birds may be concluding their breeding a little early and reworking their nests for the next season.

José and I made a short presentation to the VMRG, summarising the findings of the university workshop and explaining our upcoming plans for habitat suitability modelling and value of information analysis. The attendees made many helpful suggestions regarding the processes that they suspect most threaten malleefowl, and they aligned well with the models developed at the workshop.

Before retiring to the Victoria Hotel for dinner and a beer, Joe was kind enough to take us out to the Ouyen-Patchewollock road in the hope that we might see our first malleefowl. In fact, we saw our first 30 malleefowl that evening! Here are a few of them, captured on camera.

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The Big Malleefowl
Joe concluded the tour with a stop at The Big Malleefowl in Patchewollock

While meeting our first malleefowl will probably be our lasting memory of the weekend, it was really just as important to meet and learn more from the malleefowl’s many passionate supporters. I’m particularly grateful to Joe Benshemesh, Ross Macfarlane and Peter Stokie, without whom we would not have made it to Ouyen.

Malleefowl workshop, University of Melbourne

Brendan elicits objectives
Brendan Wintle helps workshop participants extricate their fundamental objectives from their means objectives

After an illuminating weekend observing malleefowl monitoring practices, the University research team reciprocated by inviting around twenty mallee and malleefowl experts to one of our study sites, G26 Botany North. While the surrounds were not quite as picturesque, we did our best to compensate with comfy accommodation and abundant catering.

Our purpose was to develop a picture of malleefowl persistence with help from the people who know them and their environment best. We aimed to identify:

  • Objectives: What do we want for malleefowl? How will we know if we’re succeeding or failing?
  • Threats and Drivers: What processes influence our ability to achieve the objectives we have set?
  • Actions: What could be done to address the threats and drivers that negatively impact malleefowl?

We ran sessions of structured brainstorming in small groups and developed influence diagrams that connected our actions to threats and drivers, and our threats and drivers to our malleefowl objectives. Dynamics are complicated, with different processes operating at different temporal and spatial scales, and our diagrams often looked like spidery messes even as we made progress in ordering our thoughts and theories.

An influence diagram
An influence diagram in its inevitable ‘horrendogram’ phase

Since we’re embarking on an adaptive management project, we aim to embrace uncertainty. We encouraged our experts to disagree and to cast doubt; this will allow us to characterise our uncertainty, carry it through our modelling processes, and develop strategies that are robust to what we don’t know. Our experts filled us in on what data exist where, and for what interactions there is little or conflicting information.

Workshop group
Still stoically smiling after almost two days of modelling

Eliciting and ordering information from experts is hard work for everyone involved. It’s an art (sensing the mood of the room, maintaining morale and focus) and a science (obtaining relevant information in a meaningful format with as few biases as possible), and something that I’m very new to. A number of QAEco and ACERA researchers are expert expert-wranglers and I’m hoping to learn a lot from them as the malleefowl and kangaroo management projects progress.

Luckily for us, this cohort of experts had as much enthusiasm and stamina for the project as they did knowledge and data. The University research team is enormously grateful for their time, and we’re hoping to continue involving them in our work.