Research update: Project OZscav wraps up its first field season in the Wolgan Valley  

Mid-October marks the end of the first season of fieldwork for Project AusCarcasscam in the Wolgan Valley. In total, over 300,000 pictures have been downloaded from remote-sensor cameras, and approximately 100 plant samples, 40 soil samples and 80 insect traps have been collected for further analysis.

The Wolgan Valley study site, set on the north-western end of the Blue Mountains National Park. Photo credit: Thomas Newsome

Project AusCarcasscam is a study supported in part by the Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley Resort, which investigates Australia’s scavenging community and the wider effects of carrion on the landscape. Scavengers feed on dead animal material, commonly referred to as carrion, or animal carcasses, and in Australia may include animals such as the dingo and feral dogs, red foxes, ravens, lace goannas and wedge-tailed eagles. Despite potentially being supplied with large quantities of meat from road kill, carcasses left by hunters, livestock that die in paddocks and wildlife culls, there have been few studies that examine scavenger communities in Australia and the effects of carrion resources in these environments.

In order to capture the diverse array of wildlife that makes use of carrion resources, we set up remote-sensor cameras on 20 kangaroo carcasses distributed across the Wolgan Valley. These cameras were programmed to capture pictures of all animals visiting the carcass sites and will help to develop an understanding of the scavengers present in the Valley. As some of these scavengers are also considered pests (in particular, feral dogs and red foxes), the research will also contribute to pest management programs run in the Valley and across Australia. For example, if this study finds that pest animals make frequent use of carrion resources, this might suggest a need to develop carrion disposal programs whereby animal carcasses are removed from the road side after vehicle collisions, and from farmlands following wildlife culls and livestock death.

Setting up remote sensor cameras to document scavenging activity at carcass sites. Photo credit: Thomas Newsome

Carrion also attracts a much smaller kind of scavenger – flies, beetles and ants may also feed on animal carcasses. In order to gain a greater appreciation of insect scavenging activity, we also set up small “pitfall traps”, which were designed to capture insects feeding on the carcasses. In addition, soil and plant samples were collect on and around carcass sites to determine whether nutrient-rich carcasses enhance soils and contributes to plant growth. Together, these collections will add to a greater understanding of carrion and the myriad of affects it can have on the surrounding environment.

Making note of plant diversity around a carcass site. Photo credit: Thomas Newsome

As this is the first of four study periods that will be conducted in the Wolgan Valley between 2017 and 2019, expect future updates on the progress of this project. Also watch out for news on carrion and scavenger work in different parts of Australia, as this study will soon be extended into the Simpson Desert, western Queensland, and into Kosciuszko National Park, south western New South Wales, where it will address pest management concerns and maybe even contribute to the conservation of rare Night Parrot populations!

Two wedge-tailed eagles fight over the remains of an eastern grey kangaroo. Picture taken using a Reconyx motion sensor camera.
A lace goanna moves in to feed on the remains of a dead kangaroo. Picture taken using a Reconyx motion sensor camera.
A cheeky raven pulls at the tail feather of an unsuspecting wedge-tailed eagle. Picture taken using a Reconyx motion sensor camera.
Two wild dogs feed at the remains of an eastern grey kangaroo. Picture taken using a Reconyx motion sensor camera.