Review: Australian Wildlife After Dark

The Book: Australian Wildlife After Dark
The Authors: Martyn Robinson & Bruce Thomson

Australia’s wildlife is notoriously cryptic. One could be forgiven for walking through a patch of forest during the day and spotting only a few bird species, and perhaps some mammals if luck strikes. Once the sun falls, however, it’s a very different story.

Chatter, shrieks and rustles resound as many incredible species go about their nightly routine. Some of them are familiar to us, many are not. Take, for example, the many species of microbat that are all around us throughout the suburbs, yet we hear the sounds of only one species – the white-striped freetail bat. Or perhaps the greater glider – what is it about this somewhat clumsy species that allows it to persist in our forests?

Australian Wildlife After Dark is unique. Not quite a field guide, not quite a textbook, but somewhere in between. Authors Martyn Robinson and Bruce Thomson focus on the adaptations that allow Australia’s fauna to exploit different ecological niches throughout the night. The authors go through these one after another, from sight and sound to some of the more unique adaptations (such as the electromagnetic sensors used by the platypus).

As is indicated by the cover image, the photography in Australian Wildlife After Dark is fantastic. Robinson and Thomson have collected some wonderful images, all of which help to illustrate their overarching point that Australian wildlife is uniquely adapted to take advantage of the time after sunset. Particularly impressive is the diverse assortment of invertebrate images and their respective adaptations on display.

An important aspect of this book is its high level of accessibility. The writers have pitched the text at a very broad audience, such that school-aged students and experienced naturalists alike will get something out of it. This is a rare feat with ecology and natural history texts, and will hopefully inspire readers to delve further into literature on Australia’s fauna.

Also useful is a final section describing some methods for seeking out Australia’s nocturnal creatures. Combining this with the detailed descriptions of the various ways these animals exploit the night, and Australian Wildlife After Dark makes for a great resource for any budding spot-lighter. Ultimately, this is where Robinson and Thomson have succeeded, constructing a book that is informative and accessible enough to hopefully inspire more people to get to know our unique wildlife.

This book belongs on your bookshelf if… you’re interested in learning about the adaptations that allow Australia’s fauna to take over the night, or if you’re interested in seeking them out in the Australian wilderness.

Head to the CSIRO Publishing website to purchase a copy.  

Cover image by Emma Walsh


Review: Finding the Mammals of Australia

The Book: The Complete Guide to Finding the Mammals of Australia
The Author: David Andrew

Aside from your friendly neighbourhood possums and the ever-present ensemble of feral animals, many of Australia’s mammal species are quite hard to come across. Indeed, some species are only encountered by chance or through technology like camera traps. This is clearly a difficult scenario for those enamoured with Australia’s amazing mammals.

Bird-watching guides are a dime a dozen these days, helping twitchers seek out particular species right across Australia. However, there has been a lack of similar guides for those hoping to seek out some of Australia’s elusive mammal species. The Complete Guide to Finding the Mammals of Australia, compiled by David Andrew, goes a long way to filling that gap.

For a start, this book is brilliantly put together. In its first section, Andrew has split Australia into different locations. For each location, Andrew lists the mammal species likely to be seen, including specific sites where encounters are possible. Not every location in every state is covered, though. Instead, Andrew selects a handful of locations likely to yield the most diverse set of mammal species. Some Victorian examples include Wilsons Promontory and the Little Desert region, both of which are home to unique mammal communities.

Dispersed throughout, Andrew details particular methods and techniques for spotting particular taxa, such as those that are particularly difficult to track, like cetaceans or bats. These groupings work quite well, given the propensity for these species to travel large distances. Similar breakout boxes see Andrew offer short summaries and comments on particular conservation issues in some areas, such as the plight of the Tasmanian devil. These sections offer valuable context for the reader who may otherwise be unfamiliar with location-specific issues.

The second major section is organized by species, detailing exactly where in Australia to find each of our fantastic mammals. As an example, Andrew suggests heading to Cranbourne Botanic Gardens south-east of Melbourne to ‘easily see’ the elusive southern brown bandicoot. Elsewhere, Andrew muses that one’s only hope of seeing a long-nosed potoroo would be through joining a scientific survey team.

Quips such as these are perhaps the most welcome aspect of Mammals of Australia. Andrew’s conversational style presents equally well when only a quick check of the guide is needed, or indeed when an entire expedition is being planned. Some sections feel as though one is reading a field notebook, rather than the polished product that CSIRO Publishing and Andrew have produced.

It would be foolish to brush off Mammals of Australia as simply a mere field guide, because it is so much more. Naturalists and biologists devoted to mammal-watching have been desperate for a resource such as this, given the sheer amount of similar literature available to bird watchers. Mammals of Australia should now be a vital part of any nature-based expedition.

This book belongs on your bookshelf if… you’re still trying to tick an elusive mammal off your list, or you generally love seeking out Australia’s diverse mammal fauna. 

Predation, Small Mammals and Fire - On Video!

There are many processes and interactions that occur in every ecosystem across the world, all with a range of effects and impacts associated with them. Two of these are predation and fire, both of which can have a profound influence on communities of plants and animals. Until recently, the two have rarely been considered in tandem - something which is incredibly important, especially in Australian ecosystems. 

A few weeks ago, I ventured out to the sixth Biodiversity Across the Borders conference at Federation University, Ballarat to present some of my honours research on predators, fire and small mammals in Victoria's remote Big Desert region. You might remember some of this work being written about on Wild Melbourne last year, which can be viewed over three instalments: part one, part two and part three.  

My talk (along with many others) was kindly storified by Kylie Soanes, which you can check out for a great snapshot of the day's take-home messages. Or, alternatively, watch the full video of my presentation below.


Melbourne's Green Laneways: Back Creek Reserve & the Importance of Urban Green Spaces

Just how important are green spaces in urban environments? What animals use these spaces? How valuable are these spaces to people? With increasing urbanisation occurring across Australia and indeed the world, it is becoming more and more important to answer these questions so that these small tastes of nature can remain as cities expand.

The team at Wild Melbourne has pondered these questions for some time, so we set out to find the answer. Using Back Creek Reserve in Camberwell as a case study, we set out to find just how important urban green spaces are to maintaining biodiversity, as well as keeping people in touch with nature.  To do this, we spent a couple of weekends at the reserve documenting every species of animal we saw or heard, as well as chatting to passers-by to find out their feelings towards the space. Read on to see what we found: 

Chances are, if you live in a remotely leafy suburb of Melbourne, you’re likely to be familiar with two species of marsupial: the common brushtail possum (Trichosurus vulpecula) and the common ringtail possum (Pseudocheirus peregrinus). Green spaces such as Back Creek are havens for possums, as they provide plenty of cover from predators such as powerful owls, and food resources such as flowering native plants.

Common RIngTail possums are found throughout Melbourne's Green spaces (Photo: Emma Walsh)

Common RIngTail possums are found throughout Melbourne's Green spaces (Photo: Emma Walsh)

Whilst Melbournians are quite familiar with a few of the mammals that call our city home, there are also a few that fly under the radar, so to speak. These are the winged variety of mammal: flying foxes and microbats. Back Creek appears to be a stopover for grey-headed flying foxes (Pteropus poliocephalus) on their evening journey, whilst the space appears to be home to at least one microbat: the white-striped freetail bat (Tadara australis). This tiny bat is one of the only microbat species whose ecolocation is audible to humans, and can be heard in most parks around Melbourne as they search for food.  

The kookaburra (Photo: Cathy CavAllo)

The kookaburra (Photo: Cathy CavAllo)

The birdlife spotted along Back Creek was quite diverse. The 22 species recorded fell into five ecologically distinct groups. Amongst the carnivores were the grey butcherbird (Cracticus torquatus) and the laughing kookaburra (Dacelo novaeguineae). These two species often feed on insects, but also feed on small lizards and other vertebrates. To our surprise, a collared sparrowhawk (Accipiter cirrocephalus) was also spotted. This species feeds mainly on small birds, which shelter in green spaces such as Back Creek. The nocturnal tawny frogmouth (Podargus strigoides) were also observed. 

Several insectivorous passerine species were recorded, including brown thornbills (Acanthiza pusilla), willy wagtails (Rhipidura leucophrys), grey fantails (Rhipidura abiscapa), silvereyes (Zosterops lateralis) and white-browed scrubwrens (Sericornis frontalis). These species are attracted by the food sources provided by urban parks, and require shrubs and bushes for shelter in order to hide from predators.

Several species important for pollen dispersal were recorded, including both parrots and honeyeaters. Ecologically-important species such as rainbow lorikeets (Trichyglossis haematodus) and galahs (Cacatua roseicapilla) were seen frequently. Honeyeaters observed included eastern spinebills (Acanthorhychus tenuirostris), red wattlebirds (Anthchaera carunculata) and noisy miners (Manorina melanocephala). These species feed on the nectar produced by flowers, and in doing so help to disperse pollen and therefore influence the reproduction of various plant species.

Other species observed include the Pacific black duck, and omnivorous corvids such as the Australian magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen), the little raven (Curvus mellori) and the pied currawong (Strepera graculina). Several invasive species, such as spotted turtledoves (Streptopelia chinensis), Indian mynas (Acridotheres tristis), common starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) and common blackbirds (Turdus merula) were also observed.

The noisy Minor is a common sight in many parks and green spaces (Photo: Emma Walsh)

The noisy Minor is a common sight in many parks and green spaces (Photo: Emma Walsh)

We also recorded two species of frog calling at various times: the common brown tree frog (Litora ewingi) and the pobblebonk frog (Limnodynastes dumerilii). Green spaces with running water such as Back Creek Reserve can provide a rare opportunity for frogs to persist in urban areas. Frogs are also fantastic indicators of water health, which suggests that Back Creek must be in good condition to support the observed frog community.

The People
The benefits of nature extend beyond aesthetics and the conservation of wildlife. Numerous studies have shown that interaction with nature can vastly improve mental and physical health. Living next to green space has been shown to lower stress and anxiety, and even improve concentration in children. But can we experience this same effect in what appears to be just a small sliver of wilderness in the heart of suburban Melbourne? The overall consensus of up to 76 people interviewed along the Back Creek trail was that the area offered solace, was quite relaxing and provided a much-welcomed escape from the urban environment and their daily stressors.

The continued success of Back Creek is also a shining example of community involvement. The restoration and maintenance of the area is a source of pride for locals; many have contributed to the wellbeing of the environment, the fruits of their labour clearly extending to the happiness of the broader community. Back Creek’s ability to provide an escape amidst the hustle-and-bustle and pressures of modern life is testament to the power of just one of Melbourne's many 'green laneways'.

Overall, we recorded 28 species of fauna across just two weekends of surveys at one urban green space in the middle of Melbourne. This, along with the feedback from people using the park, is a strong indicator of just how important green spaces can be for both biodiversity and our own wellbeing. It is therefore critically important that we look after our green spaces, as they are a vital part of a healthy community - for both humans and other animals alike.