Sweat’s main ingredients: sodium, chloride and potassium

"All three are carried to the surface of the skin by water within your sweat glands, and the salt stays on you after the liquid evaporates”.—Wikipedia

That is IF that liquid evaporates. But here on the land of Groote Eylandt, the researchers return after a session of trapping looking like bog monsters to varying degrees—with myself (Nat) usually the sweatiest. 

Quollity research team drenched from rains; A quick break ; Jakob extracting his first quoll

Quollity research team drenched from rains; A quick break ; Jakob extracting his first quoll

I consider it a success if I have a dry patch on my shirt by the end of my trap checking. I have just recently learned what a bunyip is in Australia, and I fear sometimes we look like that as we exit the bush with a bag of animals casually slung over our shoulder. Skye on the other hand somehow looks fresh as a daisy after a session of trapping…perhaps one day I’ll learn her secret.

Sweaty climb up Gorge; Bunyip; Skye looking great as usual

Sweaty climb up Gorge; Bunyip; Skye looking great as usual

Trapping was off to a running start once they were laid in the field and we were hauling in quolls left right and center. Trapping this early in the year has already led to some new discoveries, the freshly weaned juveniles are wily and small enough to squeeze through the small gaps in some of our trap doors! After a series of mornings with empty closed traps, and the occasional poo deposited conspicuously on the trigger plate, we put 2+2 together. Some modifications with dowel and zipties shortly fixed that blunder. 

Jaime helping lay traps; Trap laying initiation for our collaboraters; Whitney the juvenile who we outwitted

Jaime helping lay traps; Trap laying initiation for our collaboraters; Whitney the juvenile who we outwitted

A lot of blood, sweat and tears have already been poured into data collection over the last month. Cyclone Alfred put a bit of a dampener on our data collection, but we maintained productivity undercover with Clint doing some dissections, and Jakob helping me finish the waterproof (hopefully!) enclosures that my infrared camera batteries will be housed in. Skye shed some blood for the cause, with Hipster the quoll showing off his fantastic biteforce on her -- too bad that isn’t a performance measure we are collecting at the moment. Some other mild injuries included the usual bruises, scrapes, nibbles and scratches. 

Clint dissecting; Jakob siliconing; Hipster the quoll and Skye; Biteforce showcase; Wrong time and place for a thumb

Clint dissecting; Jakob siliconing; Hipster the quoll and Skye; Biteforce showcase; Wrong time and place for a thumb

Which leads me to my third component of data collection on Groote: tears—but not as you think.

One of our 5 grids is affectionately named Gorge. It is a thing of beauty. Rugged rocks, deep caverns and crevasses, quolls and rock wallabies galore, and the place of death for my field clothes. Here, two pairs of pants have already met an unfortunate end on the exact same innocuous rock, with a resounding riiiip noise shattering the silence of early dawn.  It’s a good thing Groote Eylandt has a great op-shop for I am a regular customer to replace my shredded material I used to call clothing. I seem to be the only one having wardrobe malfunctions but Jakob’s shoes are one step away from a fatal blowout so I’ll keep you posted. 

Tears of Nat’s wares; Sun’s out, guns out; Duct-tape fixes everything—for a while; Straw hats don’t last

Tears of Nat’s wares; Sun’s out, guns out; Duct-tape fixes everything—for a while; Straw hats don’t last

Some highlights of the trip so far have been Bingo the 2nd year male still being alive, Clint perfecting the ZigZag performance measure looking at cornering ability, quite a few female bandicoots with 3+ young and collecting over 200 cage poos from our quolls. I hope to be looking at the hormones in this poo, so everyone has chipped in and graciously gets elbow-deep into our cages to tweeze me some fresh samples. While we are testing performance traits in the lab, the quolls also help me out by depositing some samples on the racetrack… this unfortunately does not make it into the collection vials all the time. 

Bingo the 2nd year male; Clint working out the kinks of ZigZag; baby bandicoots galore

Bingo the 2nd year male; Clint working out the kinks of ZigZag; baby bandicoots galore

Personality differences between the males is a major hingepoint of my PhD and how it relates to foraging, and there are already some major personalities showing for our quolls. One male in particular Rambo is a master escape artist, and a wily individual who seems to outwit all of us in the lab. I am really looking forward to seeing him and everyone else on candid infrared camera throughout the year. Lastly, Clint’s wife lovingly sent him a carepackage from America, which arrived several days after he left back to the mainland. I can confirm we have demolished the chocolate and coffee, and it’s a cointoss on which lucky individual gets to claim the new pair of boxers. Thanks Clint’s wife!

Unusable fecal sample; How racetrack running gets slippery; Clint’s care package

Unusable fecal sample; How racetrack running gets slippery; Clint’s care package

A successful-sweaty start to 2017

Groote Eylandt data collections has begun for 2017 for the Wilson Performance Lab.  Skye & Nat with their international collaboraters, the Danish Jakob & Georgian Clint, kick start an intense phase of collecting performance data with fellow quoll & bandicoot participants. Boss Wilson also managed to juggle a trip to the rock, injecting his joyful enthusiasm for science wherever he went! Top job guys, you are amazing!! 

Andrew & Gwen joined the busy quartet a few days back but for all things human - setting up a testing room in the community of Angurugu, meeting many more awesome people & putting out air filters for the Dust & Health study....... all the while navigating the puddles left over from the cyclone. 

It looks like a successful, albeit wet, start to the year for the Wilsonite Labbers. Stay tuned for more updates!

Adventures of the conference bonanza and ABMs in Arizona Part Deux

(by Bec Wheatley, wannabe modeller and former antechinus minion)

Few things make you feel more like a badass scientist than attending a scientific conference. Well, few things other than finally analysing a giant chunk of data and getting the kind of results you've always fantasised about .... but more on that later. At conferences, you get to hear about new research that's happening right now, inevitably learn a bunch of new things and meet some truly awesome (and potentially equally nerdy) people, and basically just revel in the total sciency-overload for a few days. Thanks to several generous grant schemes and an awesome supervisor, I was lucky enough to attend the annual Ecological Society of Australia conference in December, and the Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology conference in January, where I got to present the research on predator-prey interaction simulations I'm doing with A/Prof Ted Pavlic and Dr Ofir Levy.

Sights in Fremantle, Western Australia. Western Australia was last on my checklist - I've now visited every state in Aus!

Sights in Fremantle, Western Australia. Western Australia was last on my checklist - I've now visited every state in Aus!

I'd been wanting to attend the ESA's annual conference since I first started my PhD, and so it was that I joyfully headed west to Fremantle with Skye, to see what's been going down in Australian ecological research. What did I discover? That exposure to (a limited number of) predators can actually help endangered animals survive in the wild, through helping them learn appropriate anti-predator responses; that heat waves can cause massive die-offs in flying foxes, and we can use biophysical models to predict when this will happen; and that integrating scientific research with indigenous biocultural knowledge is critically important to protect not only our threatened species and ecosystems, but also Australia's cultural heritage and traditions; plus so much more. The talks at ESA gave me a lot to think about and digest, and forced me reconsider a few of my own views on conservation. It’s a conference I would absolutely recommend to any Aussie ecologists, students or otherwise!

Me and Skyebo working so hard at the Indian ocean