Cardboard habitat pods give a chance to fight animals displaced by forest fires

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New habitat pods developed by a scientist at Australian University could be the salvation of small animals trying to survive after wildfires.

Photo credit: Alexandra Carthey

Dr Alexandra Carthey of Macquarie University developed the biodegradable shelters for wildlife after seeing the bush ravaged by fire and hearing that more animals might die from predators in the post-fire period than during the blight itself. same.

Her habitat pods were intended as a refuge for wildlife like bandicoots, possums, antechins, bush rats, and reptiles – the inhabitants of the soil, which she said lacked vital refuge.

Cardboard shelters are six-sided pyramids, 24 inches wide on each side and 24 inches (60 cm) high. They come in easy-to-assemble flat packs.

The internal structure of the pod consists of three triangles that intersect at a central axis, creating a sort of honeycomb space large enough for larger animals and providing nooks and crannies for smaller creatures. and invertebrates such as beetles, native cockroaches and lizards.

The holes (150 per pod) are also there to let in light, to help the vegetation to regenerate and possibly invade the site, leaving the pods to biodegrade in situ.

Pods can be anchored with rocks, sandbags or wooden stakes using a cardboard “skirt” around the base.

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Carthey has long been fascinated by the dynamics between wild predators and their prey. Seeing vulnerable and exposed wildlife captured by hordes of predators after the black summer bushfires of 2019 was a call to action.

Guests checking into habitat pods

Most small creatures will die of predation rather than old age, she argues. “A big part of their life is trying not to get eaten.

Dr Alexendra Carthey demonstrates interior design – Photo credit: WWF

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“They’re wired to seek the security of the blanket. And if you provide it, they will find it. After a bushfire, thick grasses, leafy bushes, fallen bark, and leaf litter that small creatures normally hide under were burned. For the predator, it is like suddenly spotting prey on a mown lawn.

And, cats and foxes are known to kill more prey than they can eat, she says. “For every 10 bandicoots killed, for example, they might only eat one.

The need for coverage is not a new idea, of course. “Chicken wire tunnels, sawn logs and piles of burnt logs have been used in the past. But most of the solutions are to drag heavy objects, damage the fires and prevent the regeneration of the bush. “

“It is not expected that the animals seek shelter and hide until the coast is clear” said Carthey. “We suspect that the animals will use the pods more as an escape hatch, going in and out the other side and into another pod, using the cover net to thwart the predator.”

“The pods will be obstacles that block the predator’s line of sight and slow them down – giving the prey a better chance to escape.”

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Know when to fold them

The flat project evolved in collaboration with the Australian Wildlife Conservancy and the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service.

The main merit of habitat pods, Carthey says, is their biodegradability, the idea that they are only there for as long as needed.

The North Head Sanctuary in Manly, where in October last year a harm reduction burn destroyed 62 hectares of bush, was the location of the first field test.

The headland is also the site of a mammal reintroduction program run by the Australian Wildlife Conservancy. Three species of small mammals, which have been locally extirpated and restored since 2017, are likely contenders to benefit from the shelters.

Some 200 habitat pods will be deployed there. Another 100 will be used in a field trial in Marramarra National Park, led by a student from Carthey, comparing the effectiveness of pods in recently burnt areas with unburned areas nearby.

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Animal remote sensing cameras, triggered by movement and heat, will capture the comings and goings. Pod and vegetation regrowth surveys will be assessed monthly during what is expected to be a 12 month project.

“Pods like these have enormous potential to make a difference,” says the research associate at the Department of Biological Sciences.

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