By Geoff Williams of the Australian Platypus Conservancy
We’ve frequently had cause to describe how the Australian Platypus Monitoring Network (APMN) is helping to harness volunteer energy and enthusiasm on behalf of platypus conservation. APMN participants have to date conducted over 43,000 standardised scans and recorded nearly 12,000 platypus sightings that are summarised online.
An alternative approach to platypus visual monitoring known as Platypus Group Watch is another great way for citizen scientists to contribute to tracking the status of local platypus (and also rakali) populations.
Platypus Group Watch relies on small teams of observers, armed with binoculars and stationed in pairs at points distributed more or less evenly along a section of a river, creek or lake. Each monitoring session normally lasts for one hour in the early morning or late afternoon, and ideally is repeated on two or more occasions through the year. The results provide an interesting snapshot of platypus numbers and can be used to help measure whether the number of animals active in the monitoring area changes over time.
As a bonus, these monitoring sessions also reveal information about Rakali, Australia’s largest rodents often referred to as water rats as they spend so much time in the water.
Platypus Group Watch sessions have been conducted successfully by many different organisations, including Landcare groups, Field Naturalists Clubs, students from TAFE colleges and scouting bodies as well as interested individuals and families.
Group Watch sessions are much more cost-effective than platypus live-trapping studies and do not entail any risk or disturbance to study animals. Compared to analysis of DNA in water samples, they generate a standardised numerical estimate of minimum abundance as opposed to simply presence/absence data.
Unfortunately, covid lockdown measures disrupted the 2021 platypus monitoring effort, but the program is expected to resume early next year.
Groups interested in developing a Platypus Group Watch monitoring program in their own area are encouraged to contact the APC for a free information kit containing data sheets, along with advice about how to get started.
Development and initial testing of the Platypus Group Watch protocol has been made possible through generous support provided by the Sara Halvedene Foundation.
For more information please contact the Australian Platypus Conservancy and get involved!