Updated: Feb 27
Gavin Trewella, a researcher at Charles Darwin University (CDU), has been striving to improve the conservation outlook for the northern quoll, an iconic Australian native mammal.
Quolls, a relative of the Tasmanian Devil, were once a common mammal in Northern Australia, but their numbers have been quickly dropping owing to cane toad invasion, extensive fires, grazing, and predation by feral cats.
Northern quolls are currently listed as severely endangered in the Northern Territory, and they face numerous dangers right now.
Northern quolls, the tiniest of the quoll species, can be found along Australia's northern shores, including the Northern Territory, Far North Queensland, and northern Western Australia.
Mr Trewella, a PhD candidate at the Research Institute for the Environment and Livelihoods (RIEL), has spent many lengthy, hot field trips to Far North Queensland gathering data on a northern quoll population in the Cape York Peninsula, thanks to Rio Tinto's support.
In the savannahs of Weipa, Cape York, Mr Trewella employs video traps and GPS transmitters to monitor these elusive, nimble nocturnal creatures.
According to Mr Trewella's research, the northern quoll population is confined to a small number of bauxite plateaus that serve as natural fire barriers and provide excellent vegetation and hollows for quolls.
Separate studies conducted by CDU in the Territory discovered that feral cattle and horses may destroy habitat, increasing the likelihood of predation by feral cats.
“My work is focused on identifying how the northern quoll’s population is influenced by the quality of their habitat,” Mr Trewella said.
“I hope to apply lessons learned to other quoll populations in Australia by working on creating habitats ideal for quolls.”
As quolls are also carnivorous, their feeding on poisonous cane toads has been a main factor in the dwindling quoll population.
“In the Northern Territory and the Kimberley region, quolls face the immediate effect of the cane toad invasion. I want to work out what the quolls need to persist with the current situation of cane toads,” he said.
“The Northern Quoll population is at its lowest across Australia. Using the data and finding from my research, I hope to help the northern quolls bounce back and repopulate.”
CDU ecologist and Northern Territory mammal expert, Professor John Woinarski, said the northern quoll had suffered a “catastrophic decline” over the years.
“There are not many spots in the Northern Territory where quolls can still be seen. Twenty years ago, you would often see quolls while out camping, but such happy sights are no longer the case,” Professor Woinarski said.
“It’s really important to try to understand how the quoll population can persist with canetoads, and we also need more information on fire regimes to protect quolls.”