Greater gliders move into high-tech nest boxes to help save endangered species

Greater glider in a patch of old growth forest south of Brisbane. (Image Credit: WWF Australia).

With close to a third of greater glider habitats burned in the 2019-20 bushfires, the Australian National University, Greening Australia, and the World Wide Fund for Nature-Australia have teamed up to design, test and install “goldilocks” nest boxes.

In just six years, greater gliders went from not being listed, to being classified as vulnerable, and then uplisted to endangered on 5 July 2022.

The boxes aim to keep greater gliders not too hot, not too cold, but just right by incorporating insulation, air gaps, and heat-reflective, fire-resistant, non-toxic coatings.

Recently, cameras show greater gliders are moving into special hi-tech nest boxes installed last year to help them recover after the bushfires.

To the delight of researchers, in some cases not one but three greater gliders – likely a family – were found living in the same nest box.

In February and April 2022, 120 hi-tech nest boxes were installed in fire-affected forests in Tallaganda National Park and state forest in New South Wales and a further 114 near Bendoc in East Gippsland, Victoria.

In mid-July, researchers returned to Tallaganda National Park to mount motion-sensing cameras beside the nest boxes to monitor their use.

The nest boxes are part of WWF’s Regenerate Australia project, which is the largest and most innovative wildlife recovery and landscape regeneration program in Australia’s history.

A recently installed high-tech greater glider nest box in Tallaganda National Park, east of Canberra, in New South Wales, Australia.

Launched by WWF-Australia in October 2020, the multi-year program will rehabilitate, repopulate and restore wildlife and habitats affected by the 2019-2020 bushfires, and help to future-proof Australia against the impacts of changing climate.

Dr Kita Ashman, Threatened Species and Climate Adaptation Ecologist, WWF-Australia was part of the team deploying cameras and looking inside the boxes for signs of occupancy.

As she approached only the second nest box being checked, a greater glider poked its head out.

Dr Ashman then looked into the box to find two other greater gliders inside.

“I just burst into tears, I was so surprised and so happy. The species had just been uplisted, highlighting how threatened they are, so seeing greater gliders using the boxes after only 10 weeks was joyous,” said Dr Ashman.

“It shows greater gliders need this assistance after the fires and that the project team did a great job designing the nest boxes.

“But it’s not feasible to install nest boxes across the greater gliders’ entire range. It’s a stop-gap measure to help them repopulate targeted forests after the fires.

“The only long-term solution is to protect forests with hollow-bearing trees from further habitat destruction,” Dr Ashman said.

Dr Ashman said the majority of occupied nest boxes observed during the camera installation were home to two and sometimes three greater gliders. Experts believe in the cases of three residents this is likely made up of a mating pair and an immature offspring.

The cameras, operating at 26 sites in Tallaganda, are now providing further evidence greater gliders are moving in.

Jenna Ridley, an Australian National University PhD student, is researching the impact of the nest boxes on greater glider recovery in burnt landscapes.

This involves spotlight surveys and monitoring with motion-sensing cameras.

“Setting up this project was a mammoth effort with so many moving parts, so to see greater gliders in situ using the nest boxes and also on the cameras, with mums and babies coming in and out and using the nest box as a home has been really exciting,” Ms Ridley said.

“I am keen to see what the results tell us now and into the future so that we can continue to conserve greater gliders on the country in the best way possible,” she said.

Dr Kara Youngentob, a research fellow at the Australian National University said: “The greater glider is an iconic Australian species that is now under serious threat. We are on a mission to learn more about them and what they need to survive,” said

“The greater glider is the largest gliding marsupial and it is at risk of extinction. Native forest logging, land clearing and devastating fires are causing widespread habitat loss and degradation.

“Greater gliders depend on old hollow-bearing trees for shelter. It can take trees over 80 years to form these hollows.

“Old-growth forests are rare now and the greater glider is disappearing with them. These animals are also really sensitive to heat waves, which are increasing in frequency and severity due to climate change.

“It’s really pleasing to see greater gliders moving into our well-insulated nest boxes. These specially designed boxes are providing homes in areas that have been ravaged by the 2019-20 mega-fires.

“They will also help greater gliders stay cool in forests that are getting hotter from climate change. These boxes alone won’t save the species, but they might buy some time to make the bigger changes we need so we don’t lose them forever.”

Senior Program Officer at Greening Australia Drew Liepa said that he is delighted with the success of the nest boxes so far.

“Greater gliders hold a special place in my heart. To know that our project is having a positive impact on populations that have faced such devastating habitat loss in recent years is an incredibly rewarding feeling,” Mr Liepa said.

“This is a step in the right direction for the greater glider, but much more needs to be done to make sure we can reverse the decline of the species and protect its habitat for generations to come,” he said.

WWF-Australia is supporting this greater glider research through its Regenerate Australia program.

Find out more and help Regenerate Australia at www.wwf.org.au/regenerate-australia

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Ryan Fritz

Ryan Fritz started The Advocate in 2014 to provide not-for-profits and charities with another media platform to tell their worthwhile hard news stories and opinion pieces effortlessly. In 2020, Ryan formed a team of volunteer journalists to help spread even more high-quality stories from the third sector. He also has over 10 years of experience as a media and communications professional for not-for-profits and charities.

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