Today we have the privilege of speaking with soon-to-be Dr Melissa Jensen about her journey in wildlife conservation and the work she has done to promote and protect the Western Quoll (Dasyurus geoffroii). Melissa has moved all over Australia, working on some frontline conservation projects for over a decade.
In part 1 today, we will hear all about Mel’s PhD research to improve reintroduction success of the threatened Western Quoll. In part 2, she tells us how she navigated her successful career in wildlife conservation and hands us some hot tips on how we can do the same!
The Western Quoll or Chuditch is a charismatic spotty predator with a “ferocious reputation”. While they were once found across 70% of Australia (and perhaps should have been known as the “southern everywhere” Quoll), they have experienced significant decline from east to west and are now a threatened species, restricted to the south-west corner of Western Australia. Some of the main causes of this decline were predation by feral cats and foxes, habitat destruction, as well as diseases and persecution from people.
Melissa’s PhD project was focused on a first-of-its-kind ‘wild-to-wild’ reintroduction of Western Quolls from Western Australia to the Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park in South Australia. Throughout the reintroduction Melissa tested four factors that could influence reintroduction success: release technique, shelter site availability, stress and personality.
One of the biggest factors influencing reintroduction success of the Western Quoll in the past was dispersal of individuals away from the release area. Melissa found that a delayed or “soft release” (holding animals in a smaller fenced area) within the Ikara-Flinders release site for 10 days was successful in keeping animals closer to their release site and well within the larger predator-controlled area which, not only helped them settle in to their new habitat, but it meant it was easier to keep track of animals during initial post-release monitoring. Melissa also found that a delayed-release at the start of the breeding season had no negative impacts on breeding success – the boys had no trouble finding the girls after they were released.
Melissa also ran “personality tests” to see if personality may be a factor affecting reintroduction success. Melissa was inspired by a USA study that found that bold foxes were better at finding food and reproducing after reintroduction than timid individuals, but they also tended to have higher mortality rates after release. While Melissa found that there was variation between the boldness (looked at the response of individuals to a ball) and timidness (whether individuals would take food closer or further from shelter) of individual quolls, she is yet to determine if this affected their reintroduction success. Stay tuned – Melissa will be publishing this part of her work very soon!
All up, after three Western Quoll releases over the duration of the reintroduction project, the Ikara- Flinders reintroduction has been considered successful with two thirds of the individuals surviving each year (and breeding) in their new wild home. However, the biggest obstruction to Quoll survival throughout the project was predation by feral cats. As part of the reintroduction, Melissa’s supervisor Dr Katherine Moseby found that feral cats were one of the biggest factors determining reintroduction success as studies found cat saliva on dead Quoll swabs and it was discovered that it was large male cats that could take out several Quolls in close succession. Consequently, the unfenced reintroduction site was subject to hardcore predator control of foxes (baiting) and cats (trapping, shooting and Eradicat baiting trials), and monitoring, resulting in the reintroduction team demonstrating that feral predator control can facilitate a successful quoll reintroduction . Melissa hopes her research will help to improve the reintroduction success of this threatened species and ultimately safeguard them against extinction.
Quolls (genus Dasyurus) are a threatened group of mammals and Melissa continues to dedicate her time and energy to completing her research and assist in their conservation.
If you feel inspired by Melissa’s research and want to hear more about her journey so far and career advice for you – make sure you check out part 2 (available from this Friday).
Melissa’s PhD project has been conducted through the University of Adelaide in collaboration with the South Australian Department of Environment and Water (DEW) and the Foundation for Australia’s Most Endangered (FAME). Melissa’s research was also supported by Nature Foundation SA and the Holsworth Wildlife Research Endowment.
Keep in touch
Want to hear more from Melissa? Part 2 to this post: How to become a successful “e-quoll-ogist” with Melissa Jensen will be available on Friday. You can follow Melissa’s adventures on Instagram @melissajensen_ and Twitter @melissajensen_
All of Melissa’s papers can be found here.
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