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Thursday / December 1

Student Submission: Musky Rat Kangaroos in Crater Lakes National Park

Note from our President, Mike Soules:

To the Corwin Connect Community – I know this entry is a little different from most of our articles focused on Professional Learning, but I think it is important for a couple of reasons. First, you’ll notice one of the authors shares a last name with me. Brendan is my son who is currently a junior in college studying in Australia. He has written this with his two colleagues Izzy and Macee. All three are in the midst of the ultimate experiential educational experience which they realize how fortunate they are to have. Second, the reason Bren chose this opportunity is due solely to his incredible high school science teacher Mrs. Boyd at Westlake High School in Thousand Oaks, CA.  She inspired him to major in Environmental Studies and we are forever grateful to her. I am certain that Izzy and Macee have similar stories. SAGE, Corwin and you serve as the natural bridge between research and practice. Thought it would be nice for you to see it in action. Imagine what you’ve inspired! We’d love to hear about it.


Musky Rat Kangaroos in Crater Lakes National Park!

The Musky Rat Kangaroo is a small terrestrial marsupial, only found in the Northeastern
rainforests of Australia. They can be spotted in rainforests that range from high to low elevations, in damp habitats, and typically near a body of water, such as a river, creek, or lake.Musky Rat Kangaroos are typically solitary animals and are only active during the day, especially in the early morning. This species can be seen foraging on the forest floor, and lower branches in low vegetation, and sleeping in the afternoon and at night in nest shelters. Their body length varies from 155 to 270 millimeters, and their weight ranges
from 360 to 680 grams. Musky Rat Kangaroos are seasonal breeders due to their varying access to resources. Reproduction typically begins at around 18 to 21 months and will continue for a few years. Musky Rat Kangaroos are born from February to April, after the 7 months that the males are capable of reproducing. Predators of the Musky Rat Kangaroo include dingoes, pythons, birds of prey, owls, spotted tail quolls, domestic cats, and farm dogs. Physical features include hairless ears and a long, scaly black tail. Their fur
is a thick deep brown with red highlights throughout their body and light gray fur on their lower body, and also have a white streak going from their throat to their belly. Additionally, they have black feet with five toes and hind legs. They get their name “Musky” Rat Kangaroo from the distinct musky odor they emit. Musky Rat Kangaroos are important dispersers for rainforest plants, as they eat lots of fruits, and are currently under “Least Concern” for conservation status.

The purpose of our research was to analyze the current population level of Musky Rat Kangaroos compared to previous surveys. This was done based on the interactions recorded in three different locations of the Crater Lakes National Park. The habitats include Lake Barrine, Lake Eacham, andChambers Wildlife Lodge. Among our group of 18 students, we split into six groups of three and had two of the groups monitoring each location at one time. The trail around Lake Barrine is roughly five kilometers, Lake Eacham is three kilometers, and Chambers has a 1.6-kilometer trail. With the distances monitored varying greatly, we considered this by walking the Chambers trail twice instead of a single time, as well as recording the time spent in the field. With this data, we can adjust our results based on multiple factors of the fieldwork, rather than just the distance traveled. The first day, September 13th was spent at Lake Barrine in the morning and Chambers in the afternoon. Since we were surveying the spot with another group, we split up and had our group enter the trail traveling clockwise, with the other group traveling counter-clockwise. The other four groups did the same at the other two locations. We divided the observations we had made into separate kilometer markers. Our group decided to note not only when a Musky Rat Kangaroo was spotted, but factors that may lead to the presence of one, such as fruiting plants and the presence of scrub fowl and brush turkey.

Although Lake Barrine and Lake Eacham have old, complex forests, Chambers is a regrowth forest, which may influence the stability of the Musky Rat Kangaroos population. Along with determining the population of these different locations, we were also attempting to form a connection between the amount of Musky Rat Kangaroos and the complexity of a forest.

During our first transect around Lake Barrine, we spotted three brush turkeys and four scrub fowl within our two-hour exploration. We saw many different fruits scattered along the trail, like blue quandongs, Davidson plums, and lemon aspen, which gave us hope that we would soon encounter a Musky Rat Kangaroo. Less than thirty minutes into our transect, we spotted our first and only Musky Rat Kangaroo, running into the trail about three meters in front of us. Once we approached the Musky Rat Kangaroo, he ran off the trail into the trees, and we were able to catch a video of him before he disappeared. After this first encounter, we saw a red-bellied black snake and several more species of fruit. In 2014, several groups completed these transects as well. They saw a total of 39 Musky Rat Kangaroos. When our groups completed this transect this year, we saw a total of 24 Musky Rat Kangaroos.

Our second transect was around Lake Eacham. During this transect, we saw Davidson plums, stinging tree fruit, lemon aspen, and a couple of other fruits we were unable to identify. We only saw one brush turkey at this location, and sadly no Musky Rat Kangaroos. In 2014, they saw 28 Musky Rat Kangaroos in total. This year our groups only saw two total Musky Rat Kangaroos.

We completed an additional third transect that the 2014 groups did not, on several trails
behind Chambers Wildlife Lodge. During our first loop, we saw more lemon aspen fruit and Davidson’s plum, but no brush turkeys. 12 minutes in, we spotted a Musky Rat Kangaroo running nearly four meters off the trail, and then it quickly disappeared. During our second lap, we didn’t encounter any more Musky Rat Kangaroos or any other new species. In total there were two Musky Rat Kangaroos spotted at this
location.

After our experience searching for the Musky Rat Kangaroo, setting up camera traps, and reading about them, we learned a lot about this unique species endemic to the wet tropics bioregion. We must understand their distribution to protect this species. Because they play an important role as seed dispersers, their distribution can heavily impact the plant composition in forest areas in the future. They are vital to the success and health of the forests, and an exciting species to watch on a walk around the
lake. As we compared our data to the survey that had been previously done in 2014, it was clear there was a significant variation. Although our data from Chambers and Lake Eacham appeared to be consistent with the previous data gathered, Lake Barrine had a considerably higher amount of Musky Rat Kangaroo sightings. In comparison, in 2014 they had seen a total of 39, whereas our groups had only spotted 24 Musky Rat Kangaroos. This is believed to be because of a boom and bust population cycle that the
species is known to have. In other words, some years may be a more successful mating season, resulting in a significant increase in population, while other years are less productive, leading to a decline in the number of Musky Rat Kangaroos in an ecosystem. The population changes are caused by the availability of resources such as habitat and food.

Sources:

Claridge, A.W.; Seebeck, J.H.; Rose, R. (2007). Bettongs, potoroos, and the musky rat-kangaroo.

Collingwood, Victoria: CSIRO Pub. ISBN 9780643093416.

Chambers, John. ! Musky Rat-Kangaroo ! Tropical Rainforest, Far North Queensland Australia, rainforest-australia.com/Musky rat_Kangaroo_Information.html#:~:text=Habitat%20return%20to
%20Musky%20Rat%2DKangaroo%20page&text=They%20are%20diurnal%2C%20terrestrial%2
C%20a,restricted%20to%20Australia’s%20tropical%20rainforests.

MaryBeth. “Rainforest Rescue News – Critter Corner – Musky Rat-Kangaroo.” Rainforest
Rescue, Rainforest Rescue, 19 Nov. 2021,
www.rainforestrescue.org.au/critter-corner-musky-rat-kangaroo/.

Written by

Brendan Soules is in his third year at California Polytechnic State University,.San Luis Obispo majoring in environmental management and protection. His interest in the environment began with the exploration of the rolling hills and mountains of his hometown, Thousand Oaks, California, and swimming in the nearby Pacific Ocean. His passion was further nurtured when he took an AP Environmental Science course in high schooll. He hopes to find a career in resource sustainability and encourage the widespread adoption of renewable energy.

Izzy Schireson is a third-year student at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, majoring in Environmental Management and Protection and minoring in Art History. She loves nature, being outdoors, working with animals and kids, and camping! In her free time, you can find her doing all types of arts and crafts, swimming, skiing/snowboarding, or surfing. She is also interested in non-profit work which she experienced at her internship with lsraAID, a humanitarian aid organization wh1ere she learned about natural!disaster relief and refugee aid. She hopes to find long term solutions to human caused climate issues in the future and help protect endangered species and their natural habitats.

Macee Hussey is in her fourth year at University of Colorado Boulder, majoring in environmental studies with a minor in atmospheric and oceanic sciences. Her main interests are in coral bleaching and restoration, as well as renewable energy. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest allowed her to connect with nature and grow a love for marine sciences. After college she plans to pursue a career in coral reef research and travel around the world studying the impacts of climate change.

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