Science: surveys and research at Newhaven

Science: surveys and research at Newhaven

After several years of consistently high levels of survey activity, Newhaven is an important site for long-term biodiversity monitoring in central Australia.

Each year, AWC measures more than 20 indicators of ecological health.  We do this by undertaking an extensive biological survey program:

  • Bird surveys are conducted at 70 two hectare permanent monitoring sites in a range of representative habitats.
  • Small mammal and reptile surveys are conducted at 58 one hectare permanent trapping sites established across all major habitat types.
  • Track surveys are undertaken at 73 permanent two hectare sites, stratified by the four major vegetation communities, to measure activity indexes for feral animals.  
  • A dedicated Black-footed Rock-wallaby survey is carried out every second year: 28 km of escarpment or low range is traversed, with scats and refuge sites systematically recorded. 
  • Dedicated surveys are also undertaken for other threatened species such as the Great Desert Skink.  Great Desert Skink burrows and predator activity are monitored through intensive burrow mapping transects at nine sites.

A large number of research projects are also being carried out at Newhaven:

  • PhD student Siobhan Dennison (Macquarie University) is undertaking a large mark-recapture study to assess how individuals move between burrow systems, both in the short-term and from year to year.  Siobhan has placed PIT-tag readers at her 10 most active burrow systems. All the skinks she has caught have been PIT-tagged and the readers passively record which individuals are coming and going from the burrows during the night.  Combined with genetic analysis, Siobhan’s project aims to characterise the group structure, mating system and dispersal characteristics of the species.  Such information will help us better understand how habitat needs to be managed to maintain the viability of populations across Newhaven and surrounding lands.  
  • Masters student Natasha Cadenhead (Melbourne University) is using a modelling approach to investigate the drivers of Great Desert Skink distribution with a particular focus on the effects of fire.  Using data from previous surveys at Newhaven, she has built species distribution models which examine population persistence under different fire management scenarios.
  • AWC’s Danae Moore is undertaking a Masters project (Macquarie University) examining the interaction between fire and predators, especially foxes and cats, in relation to burrow occupancy and persistence.  This will provide valuable input to both fire management and feral animal control strategies at Newhaven.
  • PhD student Jennifer Molyneux (Charles Darwin University) is using a range of tracking techniques to determine the microhabitat preferences of Mulgara and the role that vegetation cover plays in habitat selection.  Her work will provide valuable input to our fire management by identifying (and modelling) the response of Mulgara to different fire patterns.
  • An analysis of the last 7 years of data from our annual bird surveys is also being undertaken to examine the environmental variability on desert birds.