Using technology to better monitor malleefowl

Digital technologies are being used to enhance monitoring of endangered malleefowl, helping better track populations over large areas and supporting decades of commitment by the NSW Government to malleefowl conservation.

Malleefowl (Leipoa ocellata), an iconic threatened species, in the Nymagee area of NSW

Malleefowl (Leipoa ocellata) were once widely distributed across arid and semiarid areas of western New South Wales. Their population has significantly declined due to loss of habitat, altered fire regimes and predation by feral animals.

One of three species of Megapodes (mound builders) in Australia, malleefowl build and rebuild large mounds of soil and leaf litter where they lay and incubate their eggs. Breeding this way makes their nests highly susceptible to predators, because eggs can be dug up and eaten, and young chicks preyed on as they emerge.

For over thirty years, the New South Wales (NSW) Government has monitored malleefowl by surveying mound activity, recording signs of breeding activity, signs of hatching and predation.

Traditional monitoring methods involved helicopter surveys over known mounds in remote areas and walk-in surveys for those more accessible sites. Monitoring in this way is costly, limited by the number of known mounds on record and is labour intensive. With recent advances in digital technology, the NSW Saving our Species (SoS) program has now surveyed the landscape using Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) to model the topography of the ground surface at a fine scale. This has enabled the program to identify new mounds by size and shape in the landscape.

The result is a 37% increase in mounds included in the monitoring dataset. The SoS program now monitors 620 malleefowl mounds, and directly supports conservation on greater than half a million hectares in NSW.

A combination of drone surveys at remote sites and on-ground survey will be used going forward to track the presence of malleefowl utilising the landscape. Using drones instead of helicopters not only cuts costs but digital photography allows mound activity to be checked by various experts post surveys.

The data is important for tracking populations and breeding activity trends in the light of management practices and environmental variables and will help increase long-term conservation outcomes for this species.

Learn more about malleefowl.