New species for Pungalina-Seven Emu Wildlife Sanctuary recorded on first major coastal survey

New species for Pungalina-Seven Emu Wildlife Sanctuary recorded on first major coastal survey
Pungalina-Seven Emu
Rock Ringtail Possum | Carpentarian Pseudantechinus | Northern Brown Bandicoot

Two new species have been recorded as inhabitants of AWC’s Pungalina-Seven Emu Wildlife Sanctuary following the first major survey of the sanctuary’s remote coastal habitats.

Sept 2016: AWC ecologists were deployed by helicopter to remote and untouched locations of the sanctuary’s 55 kilometre coastline, on the Gulf of Carpentaria.

On the ground, the team established between six and eight survey sites across four different locations - sometimes walking 12 kilometres a day to set up and check the traps.
And the results were not to disappoint. Recorded on the property for the first time were two new species; the Northern Shovel-nosed Snake (Brachyurophis roperi) and Grassland Melomys (Melomys burtoni – a native mouse).

The Northern Shovel-nosed Snake is found through the Kimberley and much of the Northern Territory, but has not previously been recorded so far east. It is a small, nocturnal, burrowing snake – the kind rarely encountered without the specialised trapping strategies used by AWC ecologists.

The Grassland Melomys is a small native mouse found in a variety of habitats from open grasslands to eucalypt forest, and monsoon forest and mangroves in the Northern Territory. It is able to climb trees, and has a broad diet consisting of grass stems, insects, and seeds. This is the easternmost record for the species in the Northern Territory.

The addition of two new species to the inventory is significant. The Gulf represents a major gap in our knowledge of Australia’s wildlife – very little ecological survey work has been undertaken in the region compared with other parts of northern Australia. These exciting new records contribute to our understanding of wildlife on Pungalina-Seven Emu, and across northern Australia.

Overall the 2016 survey collected 2754 trap nights’ worth of data, using the standard array of pitfall lines, funnel traps, Elliott traps and camera traps. In addition, the survey team used harp traps to catch bats, and carried out bird surveys and vegetation surveys at each site.

The team also dedicated part of the survey to checking on sensitive rock-dwelling mammal fauna, including Rock Ringtail Possums (Petropseudes dahli) Wilkins’ Rock-wallabies (Petrogale wilkinsi) and the nationally threatened Carpentarian Pseudantechinus (Pseudantechinus mimulus). They set up motion-sensor camera traps in rocky gorges along the upper Calvert River, and in some of the rocky ‘break-away’ country further north. Encouragingly, the Carpentarian Pseudantechinus continues to be detected - this is significant because Pungalina-Seven Emu is the only protected area on mainland Australia in which this species is found. 

Camera traps were also deployed more widely across the sanctuary in savannah and riparian habitats for the duration of the survey. The camera traps recorded Northern Brown Bandicoots (Isoodon macrourus) around some of the creeks, where dense ground-layer vegetation provides cover for small native animals.

The 307,000-hectare sanctuary protects 55 kilometres of coastal frontage in the Gulf of Carpentaria, taking in a diverse range of salt-tolerant and freshwater terrestrial habitats such as mangrove-lined channels, coastal paperbark forests, acacia covered dunes and samphire salt pans. The surveys were designed to cover as much of the diversity of these coastal habitats as possible.

Pungalina-Seven Emu is a refuge for many species that are in sharp decline elsewhere in northern Australia. In total, it protects over 350 species of mammals, birds, reptiles and frogs, including several species endemic to the Gulf region. To learn more about Pungalina-Seven Emu click here.