Bespoke habitat calls gliders home
A conservation project aimed at understanding how some of Australia’s smallest marsupials are faring is boosting the population of sugar gliders in the Lake Macquarie State Conservation Area.
Funded by a Lake Macquarie City Council Environmental Research Grant, University of Technology Sydney PhD student Reannan Honey and a team of volunteers are tracking squirrel glider and sugar glider populations at more than 20 sites across the city.
The fact that tiny sugar gliders have moved into the State Conservation Area (SCA) is the latest sign the city’s ecosystems are thriving, the council says.
Ms Honey uses regularly checked traps, microchips, motion-activated cameras and custom-made insulated nest boxes to track the animals, and her habitat restoration research means she spends a lot of time climbing trees and peering down tree hollows.
“Understanding how the population changes based on various pressures such as bushfire and drought can help to conserve the population,” Ms Honey, from UTS School of Life Sciences, said.
Understanding how the population changes based on various pressures such as bushfire and drought can help to conserve the population.
Reannan Honey, UTS Faculty of Science
“I’m also hoping to learn more about how they use the nest boxes – particularly the insulated ones I’ve installed.
“One interesting thing is that sugar gliders have moved into Lake Macquarie SCA. Previously, I have only recorded squirrel gliders there.”
Sugar gliders are nocturnal, palm-sized marsupials that weigh only 120g to 140g, about as much as an orange, but can glide up to 50m from tree to tree, using a membrane of skin attached to their legs.
“Gliders are just incredible animals – so unique with their skin folds allowing them to glide between trees,” Ms Honey said.
“And they’re just so sweet and cute, at least when they’re not trying to bite you.”
Once caught, the gliders are weighed, checked for a microchip and released back onto the same tree. Females also have their pouch checked for any young they might be carrying.
Over time, the research paints a picture of glider numbers and their movement, and correlates this with external factors such as climate and urban development.
Lake Macquarie Mayor Kay Fraser said the environmental research grant program, in operation since 1987, facilitated research that helped reveal more about Lake Macquarie’s environment and the best ways to protect it into the future.
“They help council develop appropriate land-use practices, plan remedial and preventative works and adjust our management strategies,” Cr Fraser said.
The latest round of Ms Honey’s field work is expected to continue until the end of May.
“The council grant has made all this possible,” Ms Honey said.
“From purchasing nest boxes and insulation, to temperature loggers and microchip loggers, the work would not have been done without that support.”
Ms Honey is a member of the UTS Faculty of Science Wildlife Ecology and Conservation Biology Lab, led by Associate Professor Jonathan Webb. She graduated from UTS in 2016 with a Bachelor of Science (Honours) in Environmental Science.