It’s raining quolls: The 2018 wrap-up!

By Natalie Freeman

Data for the northern quoll project on Groote Eylandt has ended for 2018 and while I may be biased, I’d say it was a smashing success.

  Quick overnight escape for some RnR to Wayne’s World AKA Jagged Head

Quick overnight escape for some RnR to Wayne’s World AKA Jagged Head

Our marked population is up 30% from 2017, with a whopping 182 individually-identified quolls trapped from February - October. To put this in perspective, literature on the mainland has northern quoll densities around 3-4 individuals per km2, Groote is estimated to be sitting at 142 quolls/km2 within our long term study site for 2018 (data still to be analysed). These overwhelming densities can be largely attributed to the lack of cane toads on Groote Eylandt, along with traditional benign indigenous fire regimes and low feral cat densities. Getting to study this booming northern quoll population (and possibly healthiest population in Australia) is all thanks to the Anindilyakwa Land Council(ALC), Anindilyakwa Land and Sea Rangers, and Traditional Owners of the Groote Archipelago who have allowed our nerdy Wilson Performance Lab to come & research these wonderful creatures on Groote Eylandt for the past 8 years. 

  The annual trap repair & grease ; A breath of fresh air through a rip in the bag for this quoll

The annual trap repair & grease ; A breath of fresh air through a rip in the bag for this quoll

  Feb 2017 & Oct 2018—Same shit-eating grin throughout my PhD

Feb 2017 & Oct 2018—Same shit-eating grin throughout my PhD

With the help of Miranda and Kaylah, we collected DNA samples from 472 joeys that will help answer my PhD question of personality affecting reproductive success for both sexes. The females will soon be putting their joeys in the den for safe keeping, and will wean them by February 2019. A good chunk of my 2019 will be spent genotyping over 2000 individuals from the past few years, and my memories of sunshine on Groote will keep me from withering away under the fluorescent lights of the lab. 

  Timeline of joey growth: a few days old in mid August (far left) to approximately 5 weeks old (middle) to spots just developing by early October - joeys will be denned in the next few weeks (late October).

Timeline of joey growth: a few days old in mid August (far left) to approximately 5 weeks old (middle) to spots just developing by early October - joeys will be denned in the next few weeks (late October).

  See one, do one, teach one: Miranda and Kaylah (middle & right) learning how to collect joey DNA samples

See one, do one, teach one: Miranda and Kaylah (middle & right) learning how to collect joey DNA samples

I am more than overjoyed to announce the giving-up density trials I was conducting over the past 2 years for quoll personality have also ended. With the help of almost everyone in the Wilson lab, we hauled over 6100kg of camera equipment through the bush for my PhD. And here I thought in 2016 “Oh ya, chuck some trail-cams up, and boom! Your first chapter on foraging personality is pretty low on energy input”. With each infrared camera setup being approximately 9kg… my Groote bootcamp of trudging through the bush has our lab in tiptop physical shape with some fine-looking legs & bums as a byproduct. 

  Backpacks loaded and an early start to beat the heat (left) and celebratory bakery treats to keep energy up from Grooty Eylandt Bakery (right).

Backpacks loaded and an early start to beat the heat (left) and celebratory bakery treats to keep energy up from Grooty Eylandt Bakery (right).

The NQ team did get to sneak away for some cheeky golf and  beach visits this trip, along with the occasional sunset drink at the resort to wind down after a long day

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And like these quoll footprints in the sand, the UQ Northern Quoll research team have waltzed off into the sunset back to Brisbane for the remainder of 2018. With our annual lab retreat just around the corner, brainstorming for our 2019 year on Groote will soon be in full swing (with a beer in hand of course!)

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