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Platypuses more affected by bushfires than drought, study finds

Sunday April 4, 2021 - 21:49 EST
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Platypus numbers on the Mid North Coast have deteriorated in the months following the bushfires. - ABC

In November 2019, the Mid North Coast of New South Wales was ravaged by bushfires, prompting researchers to conduct a study on the region's platypus numbers nine months later.


The University of New South Wales team found platypus numbers were more threatened by the bushfires than the drought.


The study, commissioned by World Wide Fund for Nature-Australia, surveyed the mammal in heavily bushfire-affected river catchments in the Manning River in July and August 2020.


The numbers were compared to non-bushfire affected catchments in the Hastings River heavily impacted by drought in recent years.


UNSW researcher Gilad Bino said only two platypuses were found in burnt sections, while seven were found in drought-affected sections.


"What was really apparent was seven months after the fires, platypus numbers on Dingo Creek [on the Manning River] were very, very low," Dr Bino said.


"The numbers that we came across, there were just a handful of platypuses.


"Even in other places we surveyed, these were really the lowest numbers that we've seen."


Dr Bino said it contrasted with platypus numbers in the drought-affected Thorne River catchment of the Hastings River.


"In Dingo Creek on the Manning we spent about seven nights and we only caught two animals there," he said.


"Those numbers are really, really low compared with the Thorne River where we were catching platypuses every night for a week."


Dr Bino said there were no recordings of young platypuses either.


"We noticed that we weren't recording any juveniles at all on both rivers," he said.


"What our understanding of when conditions are quite dire is that platypuses can skip a breeding season and wait for a better year."


Dr Bino said there may be some hope for the species.


"We also surveyed in other areas of Dingo Creek that are deep pools and they served as freshwater refugiums during the drought and weren't directly impacted by the fires," he said.


"There we caught three platypuses.


"So there is hope that potentially platypuses may have managed to escape the fires."


Return to the region


Dr Bino and his team have planned to return to the Mid North Coast this month to conduct a follow-up study.


He said last year left some unanswered questions. 


"Did the platypuses manage to get out of the area in time, or did they expire during the fires? And how quickly do platypuses recover from extreme conditions of drought and fire?" he said.


"We're really motivated to go back to these same areas. They've just finished their breeding season so hopefully we see some juvenile puggles emerge.


"It's just in time for us to go and try to see if there has been successful breeding and see if platypuses ever returned back to the areas where they were missing from last year."







- ABC

© ABC 2021

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