Bi-ennial glider census not for the faint hearted

Hiking eight hours through remote wilderness during some of the region’s coldest weather may not be everyone’s cup of tea.

But for a group of intrepid volunteers, researchers, Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service and Wet Tropics Management Authority staff, it was the only way to reach yellow-bellied glider populations adjacent to the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area.

The bi-ennial yellow-bellied glider census was carried out in the headwaters of the Daintree River in the Carbine Tableland highlands (Daintree National Park) during the week beginning 13 July 2015. The group of 12 had to hike for eight hours to conduct the census at the remote site north of Mt Carbine.

The census has been conducted every second year from 1997 to 2009 following the discovery of this outlying population of the vulnerable yellow-bellied (fluffy) glider in the early 90s.

Yellow-bellied gliders are regarded as a ‘flagship’ species, patchily distributed in a very narrow strip of tall eucalypt or wet sclerophyll forests along the western boundary of the Wet Tropics.

Abundance of the gliders is regarded as one measure of the ecological integrity of the forests which occupy the ecotone between the wetter rainforests and the dry sclerophyll forests to the west.

The nocturnal yellow-bellied gliders commonly roost in hollows of mature rose gum (Eucalyptus grandis) trees and supplement their mainly insectivorous and nectar diet with sap from the trunks of the red stringybark (Eucalyptus resinifera) which the gliders gouge from small patches of bark. This bounty is then shared by a range of animals including insects, honey-eaters, Antechinus, feather-tailed gliders, sugar gliders and striped possums.

During the day, searches for active trees were conducted and vegetation transects established in earlier expeditions were monitored to assess the impact of fire regimes particularly on the numbers of veteran trees.

The activity at ‘feed’ trees was monitored from dusk each evening by counting the number of gliders feeding on active trees, recording their arrival and departure times, and then correlating information from adjoining sites to establish an estimate of the number and size of separate groups and ultimately the population size for the area.

The census revealed that the yellow-bellied glider population appeared to be stable with a total of at least six groups and almost twenty individuals. Antechinus and feather-tailed gliders were common and one greater glider was recorded. 

As well as being rewarded by sightings of the gliders, the group also encountered a late night visit to the camp by a curious northern quoll, an endangered waterfall frog (Litoria nannotis) in the Little Daintree creek and the unusual leaf-tailed gecko was sighted. Lithophytic ant plants growing on granite slabs that are not recorded elsewhere in the southern hemisphere were still thriving in their location north-east of the survey area.

Bi-ennial glider census not for the faint hearted

Published: 05th Aug 2015

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