Were platypuses able to ride out the drought? Find out Wildlife Queensland's 2020 eDNA survey findings for platypuses within the greater Brisbane region.
30 August 2020
Author: Tamielle Brunt
Wildlife Queensland’s PlatypusWatch Network has been monitoring local Queensland platypus populations since 2005. The Network was set up to engage the community about platypus conservation and encourage reporting of local observations.
Observational records are very important as they can help us determine the distribution of a species and fluctuations over time, whether temporary or permanent. If we do not know they are there, we cannot protect them. This information can highlight areas of concern which then allows us to engage with stakeholders to develop management plans to rehabilitate and protect platypus populations.
The platypus is very well known for its elusive behaviour, and noticing a decline in reported sightings, Wildlife Queensland was prompted in 2016 to initiate a new and exciting monitoring method called environmental DNA (eDNA).
This monitoring tool has revolutionised the way in which we can protect wildlife. We can take a water sample and analyse it for platypus specific marker DNA. We do not have to see and identify the animal to be confident they are within a waterway. This method is also used for terrestrial and marine animals.
2020 platypus eDNA survey program
For five years, Wildlife Queensland has conducted eDNA surveys for platypuses within the greater Brisbane region and has detected localised areas of concern (where platypus no longer inhabit, compared to historical records).
This year was an important monitoring period because of the devastating drought that was detrimental to the platypus. They are highly dependent on freshwater waterways to survive and key pools used for drought refuge were drying up. We had concerned locals contacting us about stranded platypuses and all we could do was hope for rain or that the platypuses could travel to a main river.
Therefore, this year’s eDNA survey program focused on repeating sites within waterways to determine if platypuses were able to ride out the drought.
Platypuses were not detected at previous positive sites along Kholo and Upper Bundamba Creeks (see Fig. 1a and 1b). We can only hope they may have made their way down to the bigger systems of Brisbane and the Bremer Rivers. They then navigate their way into other tributaries that can sustain them with food and shelter.
Unfortunately, within an urban environment, platypuses have a lot more obstacles to contend with. If they travel overland, they risk predation or get lost in the mosaic of housing and infrastructure. When future rains fill the systems again, platypuses may travel back into these tributaries.
Surprisingly, they are holding on in the industrial area of Wacol in Sandy and Bullocks Head Creeks (see Fig. 1b). This seems to be because of the presence of deep pools that sustained water throughout the drought period. Pullen Pullen and Opossum Creeks have also been consistently positive over the years, suggesting a resident animal/s, with sustaining habitat resources.
Overall, this highlights the importance of continuous monitoring of such an elusive and transient species. We can determine changes in their distribution and keep track of this iconic Australian so that it does not slip away unnoticed.
You can help: Happy Platypus
If you find an injured platypus please phone:
- RSPCA Queensland 1300 246 625
- Wildcare Australia (07) 5527 2444
- Australian Wildlife Hospital 1300 369 652
- Currumbin Wildlife Hospital (07) 5534 0813
If you find a dead platypus, they are still highly important for research. Please contact the PlatypusWatch Network:
- Phone: (07) 3844 0129
I would like to thank the Brisbane Airport Community Giving Fund for their generous contribution to this year’s eDNA monitoring.
Protecting the Platypus webinar: 23 September 2020
Join hosts the Archdiocese of Brisbane and Wildlife Queensland and guest speaker Tamielle Brunt on Wednesday, 23 September from 10.30 am to 11.30 am for a special FREE Zoom webinar to find out more fascinating information about Tamielle’s platypus research, the PlatypusWatch program, and what you can do to help protect local platypus populations.
About the author: Tamielle Brunt is a PhD Candidate at the University of Queensland, Wildlife Science Unit, Gatton and a Volunteer Project Officer at Wildlife Queensland’s PlatypusWatch Network.