Issue 5
Monday, 11 April 2016
Charles Darwin University
Honours student Nerida Liddle … bilby listed as vulnerable
Honours student Nerida Liddle … bilby listed as vulnerable

Student asks what goes through a bilby’s belly

By Patrick Nelson

A Charles Darwin University research student will leave Alice Springs today on a 1400 km round trip into the Tanami Desert where she will begin field research examining food resources for the bilby.

Bachelor of Science (Hons) student Nerida Liddle said her project would explore the relationship between bilbies, witchetty grubs and fire.

“Although bilbies eat a lot of plant material, including seeds and bulbs, there is some evidence that witchetty grubs are also an important food source, but scientific data remains scarce,” Ms Liddle said.

“The plan is to determine the occurrence and abundance of witchetty grubs in relation to three species of Acacia and one species of Senna that are known witchetty grub host plants, and in relation to plant size, which links to time since fire.

“We will also test whether it is possible to accurately detect witchetty grubs in the diet of bilbies from analysing their scats.”

Greater bilbies (Macrotis lagotis) are nocturnal marsupials whose range and population have declined to the point where they are now listed as “vulnerable”.

“Processes that are thought to have contributed to this decline include introduced predators and competitors and an increase in large-scale unmanaged fire, which may reduce the diversity of food resources available over large areas.”

Ms Liddle will undertake her field work near a recently decommissioned mine in the Tanami Desert where bilbies are known to be active. She will be supported in the field by supervisors Dr Christine Schlesinger and Dr Rachel Paltridge, and ABM Resources’ Environmental Officer Justin Robins.

“This week we will learn how to dig up witchetty grubs from plant roots from Warlpiri Ranger Christine Ellis, begin measuring and sampling shrubs, as well as assessing bilby activity in relation to the plants. We will also collect bilby scats that will later be analysed for the remains of grubs.”

Ms Liddle said the eight-month project could ultimately contribute to informing landscape management policy to assist with the conservation of the bilby.