Rewilding the Desert: First Steps

A few weeks ago, our productions team trekked west to Victoria's Little Desert - the site of an ambitious project that aims to return species that are now gone from the area. FAUNA Research Alliance, in partnership with Conservation Volunteers Australia, are rewilding the Little Desert in an attempt to rebalance the desert's ecosystem and engage the local community in conservation.

Like all good land management, an essential part of this project is establishing baseline data on the Little Desert's biodiversity.  To understand how western quolls and bettongs affect the ecosystem upon their return, FAUNA and Conservation Volunteers need to know the Little Desert's current state. What species already occur in the landscape? What food might be present for the quolls?

Wild Melbourne was lucky enough to capture some of these surveys, including pit-fall trapping - a technique used to survey reptiles, small mammals and invertebrates. See our photos below for some of the highlights. 

The Little Desert put on a show for us during our early morning trap checks. 

Trekking to the pitfall lines Photo: Robert Geary

Trekking to the pitfall lines Photo: Robert Geary

Pitfall trapping is a technique that uses what's called a 'drift fence' that stretches for a few dozen metres, not allowing animals to pass. Buckets dug into the ground are evenly spaced along the fence, so that animals trying to get past the fence fall into the buckets instead. 

Dr Dave Watson (FAUNA Research Alliance) inspects a pitfall trap Photo: Robert Geary

Dr Dave Watson (FAUNA Research Alliance) inspects a pitfall trap Photo: Robert Geary

The Little Desert woodland provided a picturesque backdrop for the surveys. 

Dr Dave Taggart (FAUNA Research Alliance) checks the drift fence. Photo: Robert Geary

Dr Dave Taggart (FAUNA Research Alliance) checks the drift fence. Photo: Robert Geary

Funnel traps can be used to catch larger animals, like snakes, that don't fit into the pitfall buckets. 

Dave Taggart and Dave Watson check a funnel trap for life. Photo: Robert Geary

Dave Taggart and Dave Watson check a funnel trap for life. Photo: Robert Geary

Our early morning starts were worth it, with the pitfall traps yielding silky mice (Pseudomys apodemoides), and a range of skink species. This is incredibly positive, as these species would provide a great source of food for quolls, once they are reintroduced to the area. 

Ben Holmes (Conservation Volunteers Australia) checks a silky mouse after removing it from a pitfall trap. Photo: Robert Geary

Ben Holmes (Conservation Volunteers Australia) checks a silky mouse after removing it from a pitfall trap. Photo: Robert Geary

Silky mice were the most common mammal, and incredibly cute. 

A silky mouse posing for the camera. Photo: Robert Geary

A silky mouse posing for the camera. Photo: Robert Geary

Monitoring is set to continue, with the FAUNA and Conservation Volunteers teams working hard to establish a baseline picture of how the Little Desert's plants and animals are doing. Getting an idea of the current state of the environment is important, so that any changes that occur once rewilding begins can be documented, and managed for if neccessary. 

Photo: Robert Geary

Photo: Robert Geary

For more information, read our earlier interview with Rewilding Manager Ben Holmes or head to FAUNA Research Alliance's website. 

All images by Robert Geary