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Development and optimisation of tracking methods to facilitate movement ecology research for the conservation management of black cockatoos in Western Australia

Yeap, LianORCID: 0000-0002-9419-5333 (2022) Development and optimisation of tracking methods to facilitate movement ecology research for the conservation management of black cockatoos in Western Australia. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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The three black cockatoo species endemic to south-west Western Australia – Carnaby’s cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus latirostris), Baudin’s cockatoo (C. baudinii) and forest red-tailed black cockatoo (C. banksii naso) are threatened and have Recovery Plans guiding conservation efforts. Threats include habitat loss due to land clearing for urban, agricultural and industrial development; competition with other species for nest hollows; poaching; disease; vehicle-strike and illegal shooting.

This research built on previous black cockatoo research with an overall aim to develop and validate reliable methods to track all three species, to gain insight into their movement, distribution, habitat use, activity and behaviour.

In an initial proof of concept trial, we attached tail-mounted tags to two Baudin’s cockatoos. Both birds were successfully tracked for several months after release, demonstrating satellite telemetry can be used to locate and track forest species.

We then developed a double-tag mounting protocol to attach a tail-mounted ARGOS PTT satellite tag and back-mounted solar-powered UvA-BiTS GPS tag to captive black cockatoos. The combination of UvA-BiTS back mount and ventral tail mounted Telonics tags was the best tolerated and provided excellent GPS and ARGOS satellite location data with no interference between the two types of tag.

The focus then moved to the development of an automated classifier tool that used accelerometer data from UvA-BiTS GPS tags to remotely identify behaviours and calculate activity budgets. Using accelerometer data from 15 birds post-release, we determined black cockatoos spend most of their time at rest, interspersed with foraging activity through the day and some movement between roost sites and feeding habitat.

To maximise the retention time of tail-mounted tags, the tail feather life span and time of moulting was studied using moulted tail feathers from captive cockatoos and tagged bird post-release. Captive cockatoos had a mean feather lifespan of 410 days, suggesting tail feathers do not always moult annually. Peak tail feather moulting occurs from December to March, the non-breeding period. The optimal time to attach tail mounted tags is from May to September.

The development and optimisation of tracking methodologies for use on black cockatoos has facilitated the tracking of all three species in the wild. This research has provided data which have enabled identification of key roosting, foraging and breeding habitat and determination of flock movement patterns and habitat use at a landscape scale across the species’ distribution ranges. This information is being used to guide black cockatoo conservation management in relation to habitat protection and restoration.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Veterinary Medicine
Harry Butler Institute
Centre for Terrestrial Ecosystem Science and Sustainability
United Nations SDGs: Goal 15: Life on Land
Supervisor(s): Warren, Kristin, Shephard, Jill, Jackson, Bethany, Vaughan-Higgins, Rebecca and Holyoake, Carly
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