Wren Mclean is a Southern Cross University Honours student studying Southern Cassowary populations in the Daintree rainforest. She is a recipient of a 2014 Wet Tropics Student Research Grant for her project ‘Aspects of the ecology of the Southern Cassowary (Casuarius casuarius johnsonii) in the Daintree lowlands, North Queensland’.
Wren’s research involves investigating effective survey techniques related to increasing the knowledge of the diet and habitat use of the Southern Cassowary. Using motion sensored camera traps, Wren has been able to capture the activities of this fascinating species.
Wren is a dedicated environmentalist. Her environmental journey began at the age of 19 when she was monitoring the logging of State forests in central New South Wales. She played a central role in negotiating with the forestry department to amend the logging schedule for these forests. Wren looks back on her first experiences working alongside Traditional Owners and in old growth forests as a major life event that has directed her to be pro-active on many environmental issues since.
Wren’s interest in cassowaries developed from her understanding of the spectacular evolutionary history and biodiversity of the Daintree rainforest as well as her passion to protect this area from further rural residential development. Wren admits she has a soft spot for ‘big birds’ such as emus, brolgas and jabirus. However the cassowary is a stand-out as far as she is concerned.
Wren has worked for numerous non-government organisations throughout Australia and as a ‘Working on Country’ Indigenous ranger coordinator in Western Australia’s Kimberley region. She hopes to continue working alongside Indigenous ranger groups, focusing on threatened species monitoring and management in Cape York.
Wren’s Honours research aimed to increase knowledge of the cassowary’s diet and habitat use during the lean fruiting season. Wren indexed the profiles of individual cassowaries present at study sites through photographic identification using camera traps. The research will help to determine the relationship between food resource availability and resource use in the Daintree. Her fieldwork involved conducting sign surveys, visual monitoring using motion sensored cameras and dietary analysis combined with a fruiting study.
The student grant that Wren received from the Wet Tropics Management Authority allowed her to purchase five motion sensor camera traps. An experimental 20 day survey technique saw Wren placing lures, representing fake fruit, in front of half the camera traps in an attempt to increase trap success. From this, Wren compiled an amazing collection of images and is hoping she can use most of them for identification of individual cassowaries.
After 12 weeks in the field, where she spent time both alone and with the Kuku Yalanji Jabalbinna rangers, Wren’s fieldwork was completed and proved successful, with all 31 monitoring sites showing evidence of cassowary activity! All data gathered will be used to conduct occupancy modelling and gauge the detection probability of cassowaries under different variables. Looking back on her work, Wren says that the one-on-one deep forest cassowary encounters, as well as being able to exchange knowledge with Traditional Owners, were the highlights of her research.