Poop hunters recruited to hunt down echidnas | Camden Haven Courier

Citizen scientists have helped researchers track Australia’s widespread but elusive population of echidnas – and their poop – to discover that the spiny mammal is more the man of the city than previously thought.

Never before considered an “urban” native like ring-tailed possums or ring-tailed turkeys, their apparent prolificacy in metropolitan areas suggests that echidnas should be considered when establishing biodiversity policies in cities. , according to the researchers.

Despite their distinctive appearance, the iconic short-billed monotremes are not so easy to study as they inhabit a myriad of environments – from bushland to snow, desert and tropical regions.

That’s why researchers at the University of Adelaide have taken a citizen science approach – asking members of the public to report sightings of the spiny creature and their droppings in a bid to better understand their species.

As a result, the highest number of echidna sightings across Australia have been recorded – 12,000 since 2017 – representing a quarter of all such reports in the last 100 years.

About 11,000 participants downloaded the Echidna Conservation Science Initiative (EchidnaCSI) app and submitted photos and information about sightings across Australia.

They also learned how to identify echidna droppings, with more than 400 droppings from around the country collected for molecular analysis of diet, gut and reproductive health, and potential stressors.

The study found that echidnas were active in every state and territory, with many sightings reported in densely populated areas, on the outskirts of cities, and even in major cities.

“While we expected most sightings to occur near populated areas, we did not expect so many echidna sightings in or around all major cities in Australia,” the official said. Dr. Tahlia Perry, who oversees the initiative.

“This raises a number of concerns because there are very few suitable habitats or food sources available for echidnas in these environments. It also increases the risk of echidnas being struck by vehicles.”

The researchers say it would have been impossible to collect such a large and varied number of sightings and feces without the help of the public.

Peter Hastwell, EchidnaCSI participant and resident of Kangaroo Island, has contributed the most poo sightings and samples to the project, saying he wants to play a part in protecting Australia’s wilderness.

“My involvement in EchidnaCSI has been a rewarding experience while feeling like I’m contributing something worthwhile,” said Hastwell, who has been an active participant in citizen science for the past decade.

“I gained an interest and knowledge of one of Australia’s most unusual animals while deepening my connection to where I live.”

Australian Associated Press