Native bird studies take flight

The lives of the endangered southern emu-wren and one of Australia’s smallest falcons the nankeen kestrel will be better understood thanks to a strategic research investment by a leading Australian space company.

Flinders PhD candidate Taylor Headland handles a Black-shouldered Kite in preparation for the kestrel research project.

Southern Launch Space Pty Ltd (Southern Launch) has announced $180,000 in sponsorship for important new research by Flinders University into the two species endemic to the Whalers Way Orbital Launch Complex on the southern tip of Eyre Peninsula in South Australia.

The two agreements with Southern Launch will see Flinders University College of Science and Engineering PhDs Taylor Headland and Julian Behrens commence comprehensive three-year monitoring and assessment of kestrels, a common raptor to the region, and the endangered southern emu-wren.

Their studies will be supervised by world avian ecology authorities Flinders University Professor Sonia Kleindorfer and Dr Diane Colombelli-Négrel, and a number of other international experts in Europe and Australia.

The endangered southern emu-wren is one of Australia’s smallest birds. Courtesy BirdLife Australia.

“We are excited to be involved in studying the behaviour of the different subspecies of emu-wrens found in South Australia,” says Dr Colombelli-Négrel,  principal investigator of Flinders University’s BirdLab research group.

Dr Diane Collombelli-Négrel and Professor Sonia Kleindorfer also study songbird behaviour in the Adelaide metropolitan area.

Professor Kleindorfer, who has more than 30 years’ experience in native bird conservation and ecology, says the new knowledge about populations, breeding and biodiversity data will help in future conservation efforts.

“These two projects will investigate the general ecology and population numbers of the birds, as well as their breeding success,” says Flinders Professor Kleindorfer, who is affiliated with the University of Vienna in Austria.

“The emu-wren project will help update the conservation status of the species and gain a better understanding of potential reproductive isolation barriers between the subspecies.”

“Importantly, the researchers will not be trapping, tagging or harming these southern emu-wrens,” explains Dr Colombelli-Négrel.

“The nankeen kestrel was selected as a bio-indicator of the other raptor species in general,” she adds.

Southern Launch CEO Lloyd Damp says: “Southern Launch aspires to be the leader in showing how the space industry can work in harmony with holistic conservation.

PhD candidate Julian Behrens doing field work on southern emu-wren at Whalers Way on the Eyre Peninsula.
Nankeen kestrel. Photo: Taylor Headland (Flinders University)

“This sponsorship is one of the many ways Southern Launch will be actively supporting the natural fauna and fauna of Whalers Way.”

Senior ecologist with EBS Group Dr Marina Louter, Dr Angela Mcguire (International Centre for the Study of Research), BirdLife Australia’s Rebecca Boulton and Kangaroo Island Land for Wildlife fauna ecologist Patrick Hodgens will support the study of southern emu-wren behaviour while raptor specialists from Austria Dr Petra Sumasgutner and Dr Shane McPherson will advise on the use of GPS tracking and tagging of kestrels in the southern Australia study.

The projects are part of Southern Launch’s conservation policy and biodiversity management strategy for the company’s proposed orbital rocket launch facilities on the Eyre Peninsula, including regular audit surveys of onsite floral and faunal species as well as control measures for feral animals and weeds.

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