Smile, you’re on camera: Landcarers comb through photographs for long-nosed potoroo

Conservationists have spent the last several months looking for evidence of an ‘ecosystem-engineer,’ better known as the long-nosed potoroo, in the Sunshine Coast hinterland.

Long-nosed potoroos captured on a motion-sensor camera in Reesville, QLD. Conservationists are hoping to find the marsupial in the Mt Ninderry area. – Alina Zwar

Coolum and North Shore Coast Care (CaNSCC) secured just over $18,000 in critical funding from the Landcare Led Bushfire Recovery Grants program to help in their search for the threatened animal.

With their funding, the landcarers organised a photographic study and community engagement program to determine if the shy nocturnal marsupial was living in the Mt Ninderry area east of the Bruce Highway.

There is speculation that the elusive animal still resides in forest pockets in Mt Ninderry Reserve and environs after many decades of land-clearing and habitat fragmentation.

Anecdotal sightings from reliable sources suggest that the long-nosed potoroo survives in this area. We know they survive in some isolated pockets of forest habitat around the Sunshine Coast, said Project coordinator, Jasmine Connors.

The long-nosed potoroo is listed as vulnerable in Australia and endangered in some states. It is one of the smallest macropod (kangaroo family) marsupials and subsists on a diet of fungi (truffles and mushrooms), and plant material. A shy animal, it uses areas of dense understorey for shelter and to hide from predators.

For the study, volunteers were recruited to help install 12 infra-red motion-sensing wildlife cameras across the Mt Ninderry Reserve and eight on residential properties nearby. They used truffle oil to lure out any long-nosed potoroos as truffles are their favourite food.

Long nosed potoroo
A long-nosed potoroo. Volunteers are now combing through thousands of photographs taken in the Coolum and North Coast Care study hoping to find evidence the animal is in the Mt Ninderry area. Photo credit: Jasmine Connors

Motion-sensor cameras are considered a low-impact way of assessing any animal populations that might be present. The volunteers have since collected most of the cameras and are now combing through thousands of photographs hoping there will be some photos of the long-nosed potoroo.

They were also checking to see what other endangered animals might be present in the landscape.

Leigh Warneminde, CaNSCC president, said the study would help map the distribution of remaining populations of vulnerable fauna in bushfire-prone areas.

We know these fires are inevitable and a better understanding of these fire-sensitive species will help improve their management.

CaNSCC undertakes practical projects including bush regeneration, citizen science, community education and advocacy. In this case, the aim is to gather evidence of the existence of potoroos and other fauna in the Mt Ninderry area to best to manage their habitat into the future,” she said.

“If we get pictures of the long-nosed potoroo, we will look for ways to improve conservation outcomes. Habitat connectivity (wildlife corridors) is lacking in Sunshine Coast landscapes, as is public awareness. The latter could be easily improved with signage to encourage people to be mindful of the threatened species while walking with their dogs or driving in the Mt Ninderry area.” said Jasmine.

While little research is available about long-nosed potoroos, what is known is they are considered critical to forest biodiversity because they spread the spores of native truffles throughout the landscape, helping to maintain plant health and acting as ecosystem engineers.

The animal lives along the east coast of Australia, but its numbers and distribution have declined significantly over the years. Long-nosed potoroos continue to face habitat loss from land clearing, habitat fragmentation and other threats, including unplanned fire and predators such as foxes, dogs and cats.

This photographic study is just one of three projects CaNSCC is currently undertaking through funding from the Landcare Led Bushfire Recovery Grants program, having received $49,000 in total.

The group has also been using some of their grant funding to provide replacement nest boxes for hollow dwelling fauna between Maroochy River and Stumers Creek. They will also undertake a project to detect and identify local endangered freshwater crayfish in the coming months.

The project outcomes will help land managers to deliver high quality ecological services to protect locally vulnerable and endangered species.

We want to work with those who have local information of the region, to create the data, work together to mitigate the impacts of climate change, and ultimately help us save these fragile butterflies from disappearing forever.

Additional actions will include investigating the potential for captive breeding and translocation, salvage operations for future fire events and mapping host plants.

Funded by the Australian Government, the $14million Landcare Led Bushfire Recovery Grants are supporting 111 projects in regions impacted by the Black Summer bushfires of 2019/2020.