The Newsletter of Land for Wildlife and Garden for Wildlife in Central Australia - February 2014
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G'day LFWers, GFWers, and friends everywhere.

Recent rains have brought a few interesting critters out on Land for Wildlife and Garden for Wildlife properties across the central deserts. Among the many insects that have been out in hordes in the humid weather, there have also been some of our reclusive desert molluscs making the most of the moisture.

Chris has written about desert land snails in a previous newsletter, but he has had some success tracking down some new members of this fascinating group so we thought the topic was worth re-visiting.

Do any of you use Twitter, Facebook, or other social media? We're trialling a new section this time called "Who To Follow". This will just give you a few recommendations each month for interesting social media accounts to follow. There's a lot of information out there and we'll try to steer you towards the most interesting people publicising conservation and wildlife news in The Centre.

So enough for the introductions - get into the February newsletter and, when you're done, why not share the link on your favourite social media? Thanks to the new digital format newsletter, we already have regular readers in the US, UK, and Canada, as well as our regular interstate readers. We're keen to keep spreading the good word about what private land owners are doing in Central Australia to protect and promote the wildlife on their land.

above - The shoulder patch worn by the Tjuwanpa Women Rangers.

Tadpoles and Clear Water: Kuprilya Springs
by Chris Watson

The latest Land for Wildlife visit to Ntaria, saw Matt and I helping the Tjuwanpa Women Ranger Group and the Ntaria School Junior Rangers with an afternoon of fauna surveying at the newly registered LFW property at Kuprilya Springs.

above - The point and shoot camera; tool of choice for the modern young biologist.

The waterhole was fairly low and the rangers were able to assist us in taking some water samples. These samples were delivered on the same day to the water laboratory in Alice Springs for testing. The laboratory will be able to assess if the water is safe for drinking or swimming, and if not, why. Recent heavy livestock activity around the spring means that it is unlikely the water will be suitable for either use. But the area has recently been fenced, leading to the hope that it will one day be clean enough for safe swimming.

above - A large Perentie Varanus giganteus, was one of the highlights of the survey.

Despite the low water levels, recent rain had left several pools of water in the surrounding rocks. Many of these were filled with young tadpoles, and sharp-eyed junior rangers even found a few tiny frogs. The most exciting encounter of the day was a large Perentie found early in the afternoon which was just as startled as the human intruders and quickly retreated deep under a large rock - the same rock many of the rangers had chosen to stand on to avoid the large lizard! It was probably best for all concerned that the lizard never surfaced again, allowing everyone to get down off the rock and continue the survey.

above - There's a big Perentie under that rock and no-one was coming down until they were sure he was staying put!

Matt and I always enjoy our visits out west. We'd like to thank the Tjuwanpa Women Rangers, Ntaria School Junior Rangers, and Gerard Lessels, for continuing to have us on their outings.

Multi-coloured bunnies - not a good sign for revegetation on your block

Director and senior ecologist at Low Ecological Services, Bill Low, has provided us with this image of a rabbit kitten caught recently on his block in Alice Springs. In rural areas of Alice Springs there are rabbits producing colour variations in their offspring which Bill says corresponds with rabbits anticipating a good season.

Particularly ginger-coloured kittens usually appear when conditions are good and rabbits are breeding well. This early stage is a good time to start control measures before populations get higher. The younger rabbits are curious and easier to get into traps.

Pindone oats are still available for Land for Wildlife members, but they will not be as effective while there is plenty of green feed around.  
Desert Land Snails: exciting life in the slow lane
by Chris Watson

Snails are not the first animals that most people think of when they summon the usual image of the arid Centralian deserts. Sure, we have permanent waterholes that harbour a few species of aquatic snails feeding on weed and algae, but what do you know about the numerous air-breathing land snails that call the deserts home? Many of these are highly endemic, found only in one, isolated population and are therefore vulnerable by definition.

The Jessie Gap Hairy Snail Semotrachia jessiana, beautifully captured by Samantha Hopley.

Alan Solem published the last fairly complete survey of the malacological fauna of Central Australia back in 1974, and this document can still be obtained from the Museum of Western Australia. In it he identified more than 60 species of pulmonate land snails in the family camaenidae. Around Alice Springs there are populations of several different land snails of varying levels of rarity and endemism, and not surprisingly the best time to go looking for them is after, or preferably during, rain. 

It was during recent rain that I went out looking for some of the (mostly) tiny critters and after a bit of searching I was not disappointed. The most famous of the local snails, at least among snail enthusiasts, is the Jessie Gap Hairy Snail Semotrachia jessiana. As the name suggests this snail is found in the vicinity of Jessie Gap to the east of town, but specifically only under the few native figs at the foot of the gap. Importantly, this species is not found anywhere else on Earth, providing ample reason for the ongoing protection and careful management of the area.

From near Simpsons Gap, this is the Runurtjibana Land Snail Semotrachia runurtjibana; it might sound like a mouthful but it's actually tiny. Photograph by Samantha Hopley.

For those who've never heard of a "hairy" snail, this characteristic might come as a surprise. It's the shell of the beastie that's hairy, and the purpose of the fine hairs is not fully understood but is thought to have a function relating to moisture collection or retention. All of the Semotrachia (Semos) snails are known as "free-sealers" - meaning that when they aestivate, they seal the opening of their shell with a plug of mucus which dries and hardens to an impermeable barrier. This renders free-sealers liable to movement over short distances by wind or water, and to predation. For this reason they are usually well-buried among the roots and leaf litter at the base of trees that afford them some level of cover - like the native figs.

Another interesting feature of the hairy snails is the strong lateral compression of the shell. This will look slightly unusual to those who have only seen the typical, roughly spherical, shell of the common (feral) garden snail. Moreover, rather than being held upright when in motion, the shell is carried flat on the back (parallel to the ground). The second species that I was lucky enough to find during my search was the Runurtjibana Land Snail S. runurtjibana, another localised endemic, out at Simpsons Gap.

S. runurtjibana with H. sapiens for size comparison. Photo by Samantha Hopley.

A species in a different genus that I've have found in the past but not during this most recent rainy period is Adcock's Blue-horned Snail Pleuroxia adcockiana. This is a comparatively widespread species which can be found in a number of locations around Alice Springs, often where there is healthy spinifex grass, including on the lower slopes of Mt. Gillen.

Some other species are known as "rock-sealers" - they will affix themselves to the underside of a rock in a dark and sheltered crevice when they aestivate. The rock-sealing species are found in rocky range areas where there are going to be plenty of crevices for them to aestivate. As yet, I've been unable to track down any of the rock-sealing species but we're always welcome to submissions if you have found some on your travels.

(above) Adcock's Blue-horned Land Snail Pleuroxia adcockiana. This is a photo from the back-side of Mt Gillen a couple of years back when I was lucky enough to stumble on a few of the tiny creatures out and about in some drizzly weather - Chris Watson

Further reading:

WA Museum, Supplement 43: Camaenid Land Snails from Western and Central Australia VI - Taxa from The Red Centre by Alan Solem

Between a rock and a dry place: land snails in arid Australia
From the bookshelf...

The Life and Art of William T Cooper 
by Penny Olsen

Something for the nature lover with an artistic heart. William (Bill) Cooper is a renowned Australian wildlife artist. Penny Olsen is one of our most long-standing and respected bird researchers and authors.

With the focus shifting from field guides featuring hand drawn or painted plates to photographic guides and even smart phone applications, natural history art of this quality is increasingly finding a home on the walls and coffee tables of nature lovers rather than in their field packs and glove boxes.

This sizeable book covers the creative output of one of the giants of nature art in Australia over the last 4 decades.  

Field Companion to Mammals of Australia
by Steve Van Dyck, Ian Gynther, and Andrew Baker

389 species of Australian mammals are covered by this book. While it works as a stand-alone field guide, it has been designed for use in conjunction with the much larger and more comprehensive Handbook of Australian Mammals. 

What have you been reading?
We'd love to feature more reviews from members and friends in this section. Have you read some good wildlife books lately? Maybe you have a favourite smartphone app relating to your natural history interests?

Put it all down in an email, and we'd love to include your input in future newsletters. 

Who To Follow...

Many of you already will be, but if you're not a user of Twitter or Facebook then you might be surprised. These social media are sometimes written off as the domain of the shallow and narcissistic. They certainly can be if you allow them to be, but they also accommodate large communities of wildlife lovers and professionals sharing their work, and sharing interesting bits of news from around home and around the world. Not just a source of news and information, these platforms are also a versatile way of contributing to the discourse on your favourite issues and engaging with similar, or opposing, views.

Choosing carefully who to follow is the key to making these platforms work for you. We'll try to guide you to some of the more interesting and worthwhile accounts to follow.

Arid Lands Environment Centre
on Twitter - @AridLandsEC
Alice Springs' favourite not-for-profit, community-based environmental organisation. Also found on Facebook.

Australian Rangelands Society Conference 2015
on Twitter - @ARSConf2015
The Australian Rangelands Society will be holding its biennial conference in Alice Springs in April 2015, but they will have much information to share in the lead up to the event.

The Conversation
on Twitter - @ConversationEDU
Expert knowledge for all. Independent news and analysis.

Land for Wildlife Alice Springs
on Twitter - @LFW_Alice
The only Tawny Frogmouth that tweets!
On The Eco-net...

Whale watching from space
Link to story in the Los Angeles Times

There's even a little bit of The Red Centre in the remote Kermadec Islands of New Zealand
Link to article on The Conversation

Cities supporting more native biodiversity than previously thought
Link to article on Eureka Alert

Cane Toads expanding their range
Link to story in the Courier Mail

Seabirds: something about Flesh-footed Shearwaters for those missing the sea
Link to story on ABC News

Predatory/prey relations in a North American setting
Link to story on NPR

Big python - little dog. You can probably guess the rest.
Link to article in The Age

Parasites: tiny, hidden architects
Link to article on The Conversation
Thanks for reading this month - now roll on March.

A big thanks this month to all of you who got back to us about the fox and cat trapping project. It's nice to know that there are people out there keeping watch. We'll keep bringing you updates about that project, but at this stage it looks like our biggest achievement might be actually finding a fox. 

Our first workshop of the year will be next month discussing the history, ecology, and control of feral foxes. Please get in touch if you have anything to contribute.

See you next month.

Jesse, Chris, Matt, & Bill.
February 2014
Copyright © 2014 Low Ecological Services, All rights reserved.

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