Phillip Island Nature Parks Science News

 SRAC Newsletter No. 23 - November 2021

Welcome to the SRAC Newsletter 23!

In this issue, we showcase the Nature Parks’ scientific production for 2020/21. We report published stories on our flagship species: seals, bandicoots, shearwaters, hooded plovers, penguins and theses completed and papers presented at conferences during this period. Updates on research publications can be found on our website and at the research gate, as well as a map of our external collaborations and students.

The Nature Parks’ research is guided by a 5-Year Conservation Plan and 30-Year Conservation Vision. These plans detail the research we are taking to protect and enhance Phillip Island’s wildlife and environment.

Happy reading!
In this issue

The Scientific and Research Advisory Committee

Our Scientific and Research Advisory Committee has external scientists who advise the Nature Parks on scientific issues and research directions.  All research is conducted under the guidance and approval of an Animal Ethics Committee and Wildlife Research Permits issued by the Department of Environment, Land, Water & Planning (DELWP).

A word to our Sponsors

We are grateful for the generous support of major research sponsors: the Penguin Foundation, Google, Australian Research Council, Research and Development Council of the European Union, Bank of Melbourne, CSIRO Oceans & Atmosphere and QBE Insurance.

Terrestrial Research

Ecosystem model for Phillip Island

This study used qualitative models and Ensemble Ecosystem Models to consider how suppression or eradication of (1) feral cats and (2) exotic prey, influenced the wildlife species community on Phillip Island. Models also considered whether critically endangered eastern barred bandicoots were likely to persist under each scenario. It revealed the potential for unintended outcomes associated with feral cat control operations, with rats and rabbits expected to increase in abundance. A strategy based on managing prey species appeared to have the most ecosystem-wide benefits, with rodent control showing more favourable responses than a rabbit control strategy. Eastern barred bandicoots were predicted to persist under all feral cat control levels (including no control).

Rendall AR, Sutherland DR, Baker CM, Raymond B, Cooke R, White JG. 2021. Managing ecosystems in a sea of uncertainty: invasive species management and assisted colonisations. Ecological Applications. DOI: 10.1002/eap.2306.

Ravens as penguin nest predators

Little raven depredation of little penguin clutches is intense, but appears to have emerged only recently. Understanding whether or how the behaviour is transferred provides an opportunity to disrupt this undesirable behaviour. We explored the role genetic relatedness may have on the occurrence of raven burrow-raiding behaviour. We tested whether ravens preying upon eggs or chicks in penguin nests are more genetically related than ravens that do not raid burrows. We found no significant difference in mean relatedness between culprits and other birds. Burrow-raiding behaviour does not appear to be restricted to kin, and targeting ravens based solely on their relationship to culprits is unlikely to reduce depredation rates.

Tan LXL, Dongen Wed, Sherman CDH, Ekanayake KB, Dann P, Sutherland DR, Weston MA. 2021. Transmission of a novel predatory behaviour is not restricted to kin. Biological Invasions. DOI 10.1007/s10530-021-02517-4.

Wallaby behaviour around roads

We followed the movements of 47 wallabies near roads on Phillip Island using GPS collars. Wallabies avoided roads, with some evidence that avoidance increased at night. Males crossed roads more often at night than during the day, while females showed the opposite pattern. The chance of a wallaby crossing roads with high-speed limits (80 – 100 km/h) increased with vegetation density during the day but not at night. In contrast, vegetation density had no influence on crossing locations along roads with lower (50 – 70 km/h) speed limits during the day or night. Management strategies could target vegetation density and vehicle speed, factors linked to wallaby-vehicle collisions.

Fischer M, Stillfried M, Coulson G, Sutherland DR, Kramer-Schadt S, Di Stefano J. 2021. Spatial and temporal responses of swamp wallabies to roads in a human-modified landscape. Wildlife Biology 2021. DOI: wlb.00691.

Toxoplasmosis in feral cats

Toxoplasmosis disease spreads into the environment by cats and is fatal to many native Australian animals, including Eastern Barred Bandicoots. About 90% of Phillip Island feral cats were infected with Toxoplasma during their life, higher than most findings elsewhere in the world. This high infection rate may be due to the high densities of feral cats, which is expected for islands.

Adriaanse K, Lynch M, Firestone S, Rendall A, Sutherland DR, Hufschmid J, Traub R. 2020. Comparison of the modified agglutination test and real-time PCR for detection of Toxoplasma gondii exposure in feral cats from Phillip Island, Australia, and risk factors associated with infection. International Journal for Parasitology: Parasites and Wildlife 12:126-133. DOI: 10.1016/j.ijppaw.2020.05.006.


Wildlife roadkills across Phillip Island

A total of 688 carcasses of roadkills were recorded from February to June 2014 along 45 km of road on Phillip Island. The wildlife roadkill rates were higher on roads with moderate to high speed-limits. While the speed limit was the most influential factor affecting roadkill rates, the pattern was not the same for all species: wallabies highest at 80-100; possums 60-80; rabbits 60 km/h; birds no relationship. There were more possums with more roadside vegetation, but fewer rabbits and birds were seen with more vegetation. Swamp wallabies were the most regularly detected species and roadkills represented 6.4% of the total estimated population size of wallabies on Phillip Island.

Rendall AR, Webb V, Sutherland DR, White JG, Renwick L, Cooke R. 2021. Where wildlife and traffic collide: Roadkill rates change through time in a wildlife-tourism hotspot. Global Ecology and Conservation 27:e01530.

Adult capture at nests does not affect hatching success of lapwings

The capture of shorebirds on their nests is a standard practice used by research and conservation organisations across the world. We aimed to assess if the capture of adult masked lapwings on the nest and associated techniques (ringing, flagging and blood sampling) adversely affect hatching success. Trapping incubating lapwings using our current protocols does not compromise the hatching success of eggs, at least where foxes are absent. We urge studies involving the capture of adult shorebirds on the nest to frequently analyse any potential adverse effects of their methods, especially where foxes are present.
Lees D, Cardellini A P A, Sherman C D H, Dann P and Weston M A. 2020 Adult capture on the nest does not affect hatching success of Masked Lapwing Vanellus miles eggs on a fox-free island.  Wildlife Research 48: 361-365.

Photograph by Daniel Lees

Behavioural tolerance on masked lapwings

The study of animal escape behaviour does not usually combine behavioural to physiological responses. We simultaneously measured heart rate (HR) and behavioural responses during approaches to incubating masked lapwings, an urban ground-nesting bird.  We found a distinct Physiological-initiation Distance (PID) that precedes Flight-initiation Distance (FID) but does not necessarily precede Alert Distance (AD). PID had two distinct response types: 'startle' (coincided with the appearance of an investigator) and 'non-startle' responses. The startled birds presented longer durations of post-peak HR elevation with shorter FIDs,  interpreted as a sign of habituation or tolerance. Thus, reduced FIDs were associated with greater physiological costs through longer durations of elevated HR.

Charuvi, A., Cardilini, A.P.A, Lees, D., Dann, P., Wouter F.D. van Dongen, Patrick-Jean Guay, Hayley K. Glover, Michael A. Weston (2020). A physiological cost to behavioural tolerance.  Behavioural Processes 161. 104250.

Marine and Coastal Research


Per and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) at high concentrations in neonatal Australian seals

PFAS (per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances) are flame retardant chemicals, and some can cause endocrine disruption and cancer. These compounds were detected in three species of Australian seals. Australian fur seal pups from Seal Rocks contained 16 PFAS. One chemical, PFOS, had higher levels than in the other species. Australian sea lion pups in South Australia had 8 PFAS compounds detected, and the single long-nosed fur seal pup sampled had a similar PFAS profile to the sea lions. Mothers likely accumulate the PFAS from their food and transfer it to their pups through the placenta and milk. Seal Rocks is close to Melbourne and associated industries likely explaining the higher levels.

Taylor, S., M. Terkildsen, G. Stevenson, J. de Araujo, C. Yu, A. Yates, R. R. McIntosh and R. Gray (2021). Per and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) at high concentrations in neonatal Australian pinnipeds. Science of The Total Environment: 147446.

The Enigmatic Life History of the Australian Sea Lion

We are pleased to announce the publication of the book "Ethology and Behavioral Ecology of Otariids and the Odobenid", including the two chapters below. This book defines ethology as "the science of the evolutionary basis for animal behaviour due to ecological pressures". This volume "brings together a collection of authors from across the globe, representatives of all the continents on which fur seals, sea lions, and walrus occur". The chapters on the Australian sea lions and Australian fur seals provide insights into their unique behaviours and discuss the latest research in behavioural ecology.

Kirkwood, R. J., and R. R. McIntosh. 2021. Australian Fur Seal: Adapting to Coexist in a Shared Ecosystem. Pages 585-619 in C. Campagna and R. Harcourt, editors. Ethology and Behavioral Ecology of Otariids and the Odobenid. Springer Nature Switzerland.

McIntosh, R. R., and B. J. Pitcher. 2021. The Enigmatic Life History of the Australian Sea Lion. Pages 557-585 in C. Campagna and R. Harcourt, editors. Ethology and Behavioral Ecology of Otariids and the Odobenid. Springer Nature Switzerland.



Learning about penguins’ diet may save marine life

We have developed a novel index to determine what penguins eat, how much and how hard they have to work at hunting during their high-energy period of breeding. Understanding how to future proof the prey of little penguins in the climate challenging conditions is essential for their long-term survival and may well benefit the health of the whole marine system. A media release on this paper was circulated via the Monash University media, published in several media outlets, reaching a readership of over 4 million.
Cavallo, C., A. Chiaradia, B. E. Deagle, G. C. Hays, S. Jarman, J. C. McInnes, Y. Ropert-Coudert, S. Sánchez and R. D. Reina (2020). "Quantifying prey availability using the foraging plasticity of a marine predator, the little penguin." Functional Ecology. DOI 10.1111/1365-2435.13605.

That is how we did it.  The index combines three data inputs: foraging success, foraging effort and DNA diet composition. All inputs are averaged by breeding stage: incubation (i), guard (g) and post‐guard (p)

Into the sea: antimicrobial resistance determinants in the microbiota of little penguins

Terrestrial and aquatic birds can be sentinels for the spread of antimicrobial-resistant bacteria, but few species have been investigated the antimicrobial resistance in the marine ecosystem.  This study contrasted antimicrobial resistance genes in wild and captive little penguins (Eudyptula minor).  PCR screening of faecal samples (n = 448) revealed a significant difference in the prevalence of antimicrobial resistance genes in wild and captive groups, 3.2% and 44.7%, respectively, with genes that confer resistance to streptomycin, spectinomycin and trimethoprim.   The presence of class antimicrobial resistant genes in the little penguin supports the use of, at least this species of marine bird, as a sentinel of antimicrobial resistance in marine environments.

Lundbäck, I. C., McDougall, F., Dann, P., Slip, D., Gray, R. and Power, M. L. (2021).  Infection, Genetics and Evolution 88:104697.

Changes in diving and diet at the entire breeding season

The study followed 10 male penguins over an entire breeding season While most studies follow penguins for one feeding trip, our study novelty was to follow individual penguins for the whole breeding season. Penguins are remarkably flexible when searching for food. They vary their feeding strategy at short notice to get the best food and choose different foods depending on where they are in their breeding stage. What we’ve learned has shown us shouldn’t always rely on information based on single feeding trips.

Amélineau, F., C. Saraux, Y. Ropert-Coudert, A. Kato, K. A. Hobson, B. Raymond, I. Zimmer and A. Chiaradia (2021). "Intra- and inter-individual changes in little penguin diving and isotopic composition over the breeding season." Marine Biology 168(5): 62.

Foraging flexibility of little penguins. Diving parameters overlapped among individuals, with some individuals showing high variability

Penguins breeding in Autumn: making most of the old age

Using 11-year data on penguin breeding, we examined why penguins are putting so much breeding-like effort in autumn, which is outside their right time for breeding. There was a significant difference in the age of birds that bred in one or both these peaks, indicating an increased investment by older penguins to breed in autumn. It revealed that penguins may be aware of their diminishing reproductive potential and have the capacity to detect environmental cues to start breeding, such as warmer ocean temperatures. This information helps us gain a better understanding of our little penguins so we can do our part to protect and maintain a healthy population in the future.

Ramírez, F., A. Chiaradia, D. A. O'Leary and R. D. Reina (2021). "Making the most of the old age: Autumn breeding as an extra reproductive investment in older seabirds." Ecology and Evolution 11, Issue 10, 5393-5401.

The annual attendance patterns of little penguins at Phillip Island over 10 years (hashed lines). Vertical dashed lines are the average start and end of the autumn breeding and the average laying date for the regular spring/summer breeding period. The peaks in the chlorophyll-a concentration as a proxy for marine productivity (solid line) coincided with the autumn and spring breeding patterns

Ocean temperature affects penguin foraging patterns

We examined how oceanic temperature determines dive sequences in little penguins. We used fine-scale tool (fractal analysis) that looks at every single dive and detect how often penguin repeats their diving pattern. Little penguins foraging in more-stratified waters exhibited greater determinism (memory) in foraging sequences, likely as a response to prey aggregations near the thermocline. They also showed higher foraging efficiency, performed more dives and dived to shallower depths than those foraging in less-stratified waters. It is an insight into the penguins' memory to reveal how they remember or revisit the best foraging conditions.

Meyer, X., A. J. J. MacIntosh, A. Chiaradia, A. Kato, F. Ramírez, C. Sueur and Y. Ropert-Coudert (2020). "Oceanic thermal structure mediates dive sequences in a foraging seabird." Ecology and Evolution DOI 10.1002/ece3.6393.

Penguins dive more often in a complex foraging pattern with better foraging efficiency when the thermocline was stronger during the main stages of breeding

The consequences of chaos: Penguin foraging impacted severe storm

As extreme weather is becoming more frequent with global climate change, we examined how a 3-day storm affected the foraging behaviour of little penguins. The adverse effects on the foraging efficiency of little penguins continued several days after the storm ceased, suggesting an extended impact on the foraging efficiency of penguins. When occurring at a crucial stage of breeding, this may affect breeding success.

Barreau E, Kato A, Chiaradia A, Ropert-Coudert Y (2021) The consequences of chaos: Foraging activity of a marine predator remains impacted several days after the end of a storm. PLOS ONE 16(7): e0254269.

Penguin foraging did not bounce back to normal after the storm. The prey encounter of little penguins decreased during and after the storm event

Coastal processes

The historical trajectory of vegetation growth at Cape Woolamai

Rare studies of changes in coastal dune mobility have been done on southeast Australian coast. Changes in vegetation cover and dune mobility of Woolamai dune were analysed based on aerial images from 1939 to 2020. The dune fields have shifted from nearly all bare sand in 1930 (with <5% vegetation cover) to an almost fully stabilized by vegetation (>80%) in 2020. The historical trajectory of vegetation cover and dune mobility through time are not simply linked to a single factor but depended on the occurrence of multiple factors such as topography, climate, and human activities, including planting of invasive marram grass in 1970s.

Gao, J., D. M. Kennedy, T. M. Konlechner, S. McSweeney, A. Chiaradia and M. McGuirk Changes in the vegetation cover of transgressive dune fields: A case study in Cape Woolamai, Victoria. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms:

Dramatic shifts of vegetation at the Cape Woolamai cover from nearly bare in 1939 to almost fully vegetated in 2020. Three stages of vegetation and dune mobility changes were linked to multiple factors, including the dune field topography, local climate, and human activities

A low-cost method to measure dune plants

Vegetation is critical for the initiation and growth of incipient dunes and foredunes. We developed a low-cost method to measure the growth of dune plants. Vegetation features influence the rate and volume of sand deposition and the final dune morphology.

McGuirk, M. T., D. M. Kennedy, T. Konlechner and A. Chiaradia (2021). "Quantifying Changes in Surface Elevation in Conjunction with Growth Characteristics of Incipient and Foredune Vegetation." Journal of Coastal Research 37(1): 216-224.

The dune plant measurement tool was constructed from steel and Perspex to measure leaf height and number of touches to calculate leaf density and frequency. The system is collapsible, movable, lightweight and costs AUD 360 to be operated by a single person


Plastic Food for Fledgling Short-tailed Shearwaters

Short-tailed shearwater is one of the seabird species most likely to ingest plastic and may make them useful for monitoring plastic pollution in the ocean. During the 1950s and 1960s plastic was rarely ingested by short-tailed shearwaters. By the 1970s, it increases to almost half of the shearwaters in the Bass Strait. In recent years, the proportion of fledglings ingesting plastic on Phillip Island has increased dramatically, between 98% and 100%.

Colvin, J, Dann, P. and Nugegoda, D. (2020). Chapter 22.  Plastic Food for Fledgling Short-tailed Shearwaters (Ardenna tenuirostris): A Case Study. In Particulate Plastics in Terrestrial and Aquatic Environments.  Bolan, N. (Ed.), Kirkham, M. (Ed.), Halsband, C. (Ed.), Nugegoda, D. (Ed.), Ok, Y. (Ed). CRC Press: Boca Raton.

The ventriculus of a short-tailed shearwater was incised during post-mortem examination to reveal stomach contents containing multiple pieces of plastic

Threatened species

Bandicoots as ecological engineers

Digging mammals can turn over large amounts of soil every night with their strong front legs as they dig for food. We investigated the digging rates by eastern barred bandicoots on Churchill Island. One bandicoot can make 41 small conical digs an hour. That is nearly 500 digs a night, ~13 kilos of soil every night, or 4.8 tonnes a year! The number of bandicoots on Churchill Island (~130) would dig up a staggering 1,690 kilos of soil every night, positively affecting the soil. The eastern barred bandicoots can help regenerate agriculture by assisting pasture growth and condition, reducing topsoil runoff and mitigating the effects of soil compaction from stock trampling.

Halstead LM, Sutherland DR, Valentine LE, Coetsee AL, Rendall AR, Ritchie EG. 2020. Digging up the dirt: quantifying the effects on soil of a translocated ecosystem engineer Austral Ecology 45:97-108.

Foraging behaviour of hooded plovers

Shorebirds frequent dynamic sandy shore ecosystems. We examine the effects of the environment (season, tide and beach level) and demographical/social (age, flock size, breeding status) variables on the foraging behaviour and the success of hooded plovers. Both the environmental and demographic models predicted foraging success. Immatures had higher foraging rates but lower success than adults. Birds foraged with the highest success and at the lowest rate during spring. Hooded plovers rely on all levels of the beach for foraging. Enhancing prey resources through supplementation of macrophyte wrack may increase prey availability.

Butler S A., Sheppard N, Dann P, Maguire G S and Weston M A. 2020 Foraging behaviour of an obligate, sandy shore predator, Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science, Volume 246, 246; 1-11.

Global reviews and multi-species

Hemispheric asymmetry in ocean change and the productivity of ecosystem sentinels

Seabirds that forage and breed across oceans globally are recognised as sentinels of ocean health. This study collated data of breeding productivity for 66 seabird species (including little penguins on Phillip Island) involving 36 seabird scientists of both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, finding varying patterns. Northern Hemisphere species exhibited greater signs of stress and reduced breeding success, indicative of low fish resources. Southern Hemisphere species showed less impact on reproductive output, suggesting that the fish populations there have thus far been less disturbed. The differences across hemispheres indicate different strategies for conservation, with active recovery needed in the north and enhanced protection in the south.
Sydeman, W. J., D. S. Schoeman, S. A. Thompson, B. A. Hoover, M. García-Reyes, F. Daunt, P. Agnew, T. Anker-Nilssen, C. Barbraud, R. Barrett, P. H. Becker, E. Bell, P. D. Boersma, S. Bouwhuis, B. Cannell, R. J. M. Crawford, P. Dann, K. Delord, G. Elliott, K. E. Erikstad, E. Flint, R. W. Furness, M. P. Harris, S. Hatch, K. Hilwig, J. T. Hinke, J. Jahncke, J. A. Mills, T. K. Reiertsen, H. Renner, R. B. Sherley, C. Surman, G. Taylor, J. A. Thayer, P. N. Trathan, E. Velarde, K. Walker, S. Wanless, P. Warzybok and Y. Watanuki (2021). "Hemispheric asymmetry in ocean change and the productivity of ecosystem sentinels." Science 372(6545): 980-983.

Climate change and other human activities are causing profound effects on marine ecosystem productivity. Global monitoring of seabird productivity enables the detection of ecosystem change in remote regions and contributes to our understanding of marine climate impacts on ecosystems

Trophic niches of a seabird assemblage in Bass Strait

The Bass Strait is a key region for seabirds. The trophic niches of little penguins, short-tailed shearwaters, fairy prions and common diving petrels varied significantly between regions, years and seasons. These differences are likely to result from changes in prey availability driven by variations in ocean currents and local productivity. Despite interspecific similarities in diet, divergence in the relative foraging niche is likely to reduce interspecific competition for prey, though this may become more important in years of low prey availability. Further information on the feeding behaviour of these Procellariiformes can elucidate the segregation of foraging niches and their capacity to adapt to changing environmental conditions.

Fromant A, Schumann, N, Dann, P, Cherel, Y, Arnould, JPY. 2020. Trophic niches of a seabird assemblage in Bass Strait, south-eastern Australia. PeerJ 8: e8700

Summary of isotopic _13C and _15N values in this study and other published data for the whole blood of the main marine predators in the Bass Strait region (follow the link above for details). Little penguin (LP), short-tailed shearwater (STSW), fairy prion (FP), common diving petrel (CDP), Australasian gannet (GA), white-faced storm petrel (WFST), shy albatross (SA) and Australian fur seal (AFS)

Penguin Global Conservation Agenda under the IUCN SSC Penguin Specialist Group

The Steering Committee of the IUCN Penguin Specialist Group published this seminal essay on the penguin species in most critical need of conservation action. The highest-ranked conservation needs were to enhance marine spatial planning, improve stakeholder engagement, and develop disaster management and species‐specific action plans. The Group identified ways to translate science into effective conservation for penguins: 1) Funding bodies must recognise and support long‐term research. 2) Expand penguin research to focus on non‐breeding season and the juvenile stage. 3) Marine reserves must be designed at ecologically appropriate spatial and temporal scales. 4) Improve communication between scientists and decision-makers.

Boersma, P. D., P. G. Borboroglu, N. J. Gownaris, C. A. Bost, A. Chiaradia, S. Ellis, T. Schneider, P. J. Seddon, A. Simeone, P. N. Trathan, L. J. Waller and B. Wienecke (2020). "Applying science to pressing conservation needs for penguins. Conservation Biology 34(1): 103-112 open source:

Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) on penguins and shearwaters

Baseline information enables understanding and assessing cumulative impacts within marine ecosystems. There is little information on persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in marine environments in Australia. Organic contaminants were detected in 13 out of 15 little penguin blood samples, with a higher concentration than other penguin species, likely due to the proximity of the Phillip Island colony to Port Phillip Bay and the urbanised and industrial centres of Melbourne. A total of 25 out 45 POP types were recorded in migratory short-tailed shearwaters. The presence of novel flame retardant (HBB) is indicative of changing global regulations as the legacy flame retardant (PBDE) is phased out.

Lewis, P. J., T. J. McGrath, A. Chiaradia, C. R. McMahon, L. Emmerson, G. Allinson and J. Shimeta (2020). "A baseline for POPs contamination in Australian seabirds: little penguins vs. short-tailed shearwaters." Marine Pollution Bulletin 159: 111488.

Island partnerships building collective impact

If conservation depends on people, then community partnerships are the lynchpin to conservation success.  The contribution of local knowledge, intellectual capital and volunteer labour fosters ownership and longevity into conservation initiatives well beyond their projected timeframe.  Island communities are socially and culturally diverse and driven by a range of motivations. We need to better understand and embed these drivers into program design. We present four case studies on major populated islands in Australia where community collaborations are building the collective impact needed to underpin conservation success. They contain key learnings about community involvement to help guide managers with future island planning and avoid pitfalls.

Bryant, Bower, Bower, Copley, Dann, Matassoni, Sprod  and Sutherland (2021). Island partnerships building collective impact.  Pacific Conservation Biology.

National Light Pollution Guidelines for Wildlife is now official – features Phillip Island as a success story

The National Light Pollution Guidelines has been produced by the Commonwealth Government. It raises awareness of the potential impacts of artificial light on wildlife while providing a framework for assessing and managing these impacts around wildlife. Phillip Island is featured as one of three success stories of research on light pollution and its practical application.

Theses completed

Towards adaptive predator management

Tan, Laura X.L. (2021) Towards adaptive predator management to protect ecotourism of an iconic species. PhD, Deakin University.
Little penguins experienced intense nest depredation by little ravens. Laura’s thesis identified culprit birds that exhibit burrow-raiding behaviour. She documented current levels of penguin clutch depredation by ravens and investigates whether certain morphological traits or relationships between ravens are associated with culprit birds. Culprit birds are slightly larger than other ravens but there is not clear genetic relatedness between culprit ravens, suggesting that any skill transmission is not between close kin. Testing scats for penguin DNA could help to identifying culprit ravens but field observations will still be required. Identifying culprit ravens remains challenging, and hence no targeted solution yet exists for managing this threat to penguins.

Persistent Organic Pollutants in the food chain of seabirds

Lewis, Phoebe (2021). Persistent Organic Pollutants in seabirds of the east Antarctic (including Phillip Island penguins as comparison). PhD, RMIT Victoria.
Seabirds are alerting us on pollutants that can bio-magnify in the food chain and bio-accumulate in organisms with hazard consequences. Phoebe produced novel baseline data on levels of contaminants PCBs, OCPs and BFRs on seabirds across East Antarctica. As method validation, baseline levels of these contaminants were determined in blood samples from little penguins from Phillip Island and short-tailed shearwaters from Tasmania. In both species, measured levels followed the contamination pattern PCBs>OCPs>BFRs, consistent with studies from seabird contamination in the Northern Hemisphere, where POPs sources are predominantly industrial. Levels of legacy and emerging POPs allowed a comparison of seabird species over spatial and temporal scales, identifying unmonitored threats to the Southern Hemisphere seabird populations.

Persistent organic pollutants: from source to contaminating the marine environment

The role of the parasite Toxoplasma gondii in the health of the southern brown bandicoot

Breidahl, A.J. (2020) An investigation into the role Toxoplasma gondii may play in the health of the southern brown bandicoot (Isoodon obesulus obesulus) and an assessment of environmental contamination with T. gondii. Masters of Veterinary Science Masters of Veterinary Science, The University of Melbourne.
Toxoplasma gondii, a protozoan intracellular parasite, excreted into the environment by cats, has been shown to cause clinical disease, including death, in many small and medium sized marsupials, yet little is known of its effect on southern brown bandicoot populations. This study aimed to investigate the significance of T. gondii to the health of southern brown bandicoot populations on the northern hinterland of Western Port, Victoria and methods of predicting probability of infection with environmental T. gondii. The prevalence of T. gondii in southern brown bandicoots and the environment they were studied was low, and rabbits appear to be a potential sentinel species that could indicate environmental contamination of T. gondii.

The impact of Swamp wallaby, Cape Barren goose and European rabbit herbivory on agricultural pastures

Jones, L. (2020) Determining the impact of Swamp wallaby, Cape Barren goose and European rabbit herbivory on agricultural pastures. Master of Applied Science, Charles Sturt University.
The study quantified the effects of Swamp wallaby, Cape Barren geese and rabbit herbivory on farm pastures to help stakeholders understand their relative grazing influence on farms.  This study did not find evidence of herbivory of pastures by Swamp wallabies, Cape Barren geese or rabbits and so the impact of each species grazing could not be differentiated. If the study were replicated with a larger sample size, it could assist wildlife or vegetation management decisions by Phillip Island's natural reserve and private farmland managers, as well as inform local conservation groups and the local community.

Population ecology of eastern barred bandicoot island introductions

Townsend, T. (2020) Comparing the population ecology of eastern barred bandicoot island introductions. Bachelor of Environmental Science. Honours, Deakin University.
Tahlia’s study examined the population ecology and behaviour of an endangered species, the eastern barred bandicoot, on three islands in Victoria where they have been recently introduced as part of conservation translocations: Churchill Island (fox and cat free) and Phillip and French Islands (fox free, cats present). The study assessed the influence of cat presence on bandicoot establishment, population density and growth, and temporal activity. Eastern barred bandicoots were able to coexist with feral cats and exhibit shifts in temporal activity to avoid peak activity periods for feral cats, revealing bandicoots can recognise and adapt to the presence of this predator.

Current and future breeding timing in Little Penguins under increasing ocean temperature

McCallum, Catriona (2020). Current and future reproductive timing and success in Little Penguins (Eudyptula minor) under increasing ocean temperature. Honours, Monash University.
Catriona explored how Little Penguins is responding to ongoing climate change in ocean temperature and vertical water stratification. Penguins advanced the timing of breeding by over a month over 25 years in correlation to the increases in ocean temperatures. The breeding success was 30% higher when the mean egg-laying date occurred before October. Predictions under the IPCC scenarios suggested penguins will continue to advance the timing of breeding and increase reproductive success until the end of 2100. They may be capable of adjusting their life cycle in the face of future extreme environmental changes by advancing the timing of breeding within their annual cycle.

Mean egg-laying date becoming earlier decreased from 1993 to 2018 for Little Penguins at the Phillip Island

The past, present and future diet of little penguins

Nguyen, Leanne (2021). The past, present and future diet of little penguins (Eudyptula minor) . Honours, Monash University.
Leanne studied how diet and reproductive performance of little penguins can inform us of past responses to environmental variation, helping us understand how organisms may be impacted in the future. She looked at diet changes and breeding success in relation to sea surface temperature (SST), as their foraging zone is warming up four times faster than the global average. In the past 18-years, penguins breeding began earlier with more diverse diet and high breeding success when SSTs were low. The high rates of breeding success suggest that so far, penguins may have a positive response to future changes in prey availability.

Number of penguin chicks fledged per breeding pair at Phillip Island and mean sea surface temperature (SST, °C) during the breeding seasons of 2003 to 2019, with breeding success negatively correlated with SST (r2 = 0.4, P = 0.016).


Third World Seabird Conference

The World Seabird Conference is a gathering of scientists, policy makers and conservation managers working seabird research and conservation worldwide. The Conference was online. There were 44 presentations on penguins, Nature Parks contributed to 30% (14) of the total penguin presentations on all aspects of little penguin's life. It ranged from the biology of aging birds, new population size estimates, diet, sense of smell, environmental changes, rehab and clever solutions to make penguin life easier. Check out all titles below.

What are little penguins telling us about rapid climate deterioration

André Chiaradia, Akiko Kato, Richard Reina, Fran Ramírez, Graeme Hays, Claire Saraux, Quentin Schull and Yan Ropert-Coudert

Studying seabird diet using DNA in faeces: lessons learned and future prospects

Bruce Deagle, Julie McInnes, Simon Jarman, Andrea Polanowski, Rachael Alderman, Mary-Anne Lea, Claire Waluda, Norman Ratcliffe, Michael Dunn, Catherine Cavallo, Andre Chiaradia, Alix de Jersey, Louise Emmerson

Life-history trait effects on fitness: the secret of high-quality individuals

Claire Saraux, Nicolas Joly and André Chiaradia

Little penguins respond to odours linked to food but not to the nest

Gaia Dell’Ariccia, Ross Holmberg, Francesco Bonadonna and André Chiaradia

Magnetic particle technology: the quick clean for oil contaminated wildlife

John Orbell, Stephen Bigger, Peter Dann, Lawrence Ngeh, Linda Diep, Angela Shewan

Impacts of terrestrial heat waves on survival of little penguins during moult

Lauren Tworkowski, Peter Dann, Ursula Ellenberg and Kylie Robert

Using fauna grids to prevent penguin mortality

Leanne Renwick, André Chiaradia, Ross Holmberg, Damian Prendergast

Penguin Microbes

Meagan Dewar, John Arnould, Peter Dann, Phil Trathan and Theo Allnutt

A combination of phenology and short-term variability in foraging performance of little penguins

Nicolas Joly, André Chiaradia, Jean-Yves Georges and Claire Saraux

Foraging habitat preference of little penguins within estuarine plume fronts

Nicole D. Kowalczyk, Richard D. Reina, Tiana J. Preston, Yan Ropert-Coudert, Akiko Kato and André Chiaradia

Towards a Penguin Global Conservation Agenda by the IUCN SSC Penguin Specialist Group

Pablo García Borboroglu, Dee Boersma, Sue Ellis, Charly Bost, Tom Schneider, Phil Seddon, Alejandro Simeone, Phil Trathan, Lauren Waller, Barbara Wienecke, Natasha Gownaris and André Chiaradia

Is it worth doing? Little penguin rehabilitation and release on Phillip Island

Paula Wasiak, Jodi Bellett and Rose Baulch

Recovery of the largest colony of the world's smallest penguin

Peter Dann and Duncan Sutherland

Weighbridges: remote monitoring with minimal disturbance

Ross Holmberg, Kean Maizels, Richard Reina and André Chiaradia

Australian Mammal Society. Online Conference (2021)

Life history parameters of Common Dolphins in SA: a preliminary study

Catherine Kemper, Ceri Roberts, Rebecca McIntosh and Simon Goldsworthy

Bins on Boats: working together to reduce marine waste and marine mammal entanglement

Rebecca McIntosh and Simon Boag

Uncovering the source colony of predated little penguin feathers in long-nosed fur seal scats using trace element and stable isotope analysis

Sarah-Lena Reinhold, Simon Goldsworthy, Sean Connell and Rebecca McIntosh

Australasian Vertebrate Pest Conference. Centre for Invasive Species Solutions

Island conservation in Victoria: challenges and opportunities (2021)

Duncan Sutherland and Peter Dann

Conference on light pollution impacts on seabirds - Sociedad Española de Ornitologia

Phillip Island, Australia, a study case to reduce the effect of artificial light on the wildlife

Andre Chiaradia

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