Bio-Acoustic Observatory and further Mistletoe research

Project Update

A/Prof David Watson’s nine day field trip to western NSW in April (April 17 to 26) has heralded the start of his collection of audio data for a new ARC Discovery project.

The trip was centred on the towns of Bourke, Cobar and Whitecliffs with most fieldwork conducted in and around Gundabooka National Park and Paroo-Darling National Park.

A handsome leopard mistletoe near Tilpa (en route to Whitecliffs) with Mel, Kirsty and volunteer Wendy, Pic Dave Watson

A handsome leopard mistletoe near Tilpa (en route to Whitecliffs) with Mel, Kirsty and volunteer Wendy, Pic Dave Watson

Dave used listening devices to record the sounds of birds, frogs, crickets, cicadas… “any organism that makes a sound basically” for the Bio-Acoustic Observatory: Engaging birdwatchers to monitor biodiversity by collecting and analysing big audio data project.

Dave’s involvement in the project is primarily as an ornithologist, overseeing the collection of acoustic data that will then be analysed via large-scale crowd-sourcing across Australia.  It is the very early stages of the three year project, and involved establishing sampling protocols, ably assisted by his wife Dr Maggie Watson, and three sons.

The trip also marked the beginning of field work by two students he is supervising that are working in collaboration with David and plant physiologist Dr Andy Leigh from University of Technology Sydney (UTS)— Melinda Cook, a Masters student, and Kirsty Milner, an Honours student.

“Kirsty is looking at host range which is basically a parasite question,” explains Dave. “Parasitologists have struggled with this because  if you have a particular parasites, say a worm, and you want to know if this worm is found  only in this one fish, or a whole bunch of fishes, all the ways is which you are going to try to answer that question are going to be biased by the way you sample.
“It’s all confounded by effort. The more fish you catch the more likely you are to find that worm, and rare hosts are necessarily less likely to be caught…so it is very hard to know what the actual host range is.”
It is much easier to work with mistletoes because they are more obvious; they are either in a tree or not.

listening device in situ

Listening device in place- pic Dave Watson

“We are using mistletoes in trees to come up with a whole new way of estimating host range using  quantitative methods, using samples from multiple areas to determine patterns of preference and predict overall host range across the distribution of the mistletoe,” says Dave.

Melinda’s Masters will look at questions related to bird-mistletoe interactions including how do birds find mistletoe? “Do birds just randomly fly around and find one, or do they have a good idea of where they might be from prior knowledge,” says Dave.  “We will be testing this by conducting various experiments—taking mistletoes away, putting mistletoe in new locations, to try and pin down the search image used by fruit-eating (and, therefore seed dispersing) birds.

About ilwscsu
The Institute for Land, Water and Society is one of four Centres of Research Excellence within Charles Sturt University, Australia. Its principal focus is on integrated research which contributes to improved social and environmental sustainability in rural and regional areas.

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