RPS ecologists writing the story of North Queensland skink
02 September 2021 | 3 min read
When our Ecologists complete surveys in the field, they are usually adding new chapters to an already long story about a particular species’ habitat, behaviour, and health.
For RPS environmental scientists Natalie May, Liam Honey, and Monique Palmer, their work in the Atherton Tablelands region of North Queensland is in many ways writing the prologue for Ctenotus monticola.
A species of native skink only known to science since 1981, very little is understood about this tropical reptile endemic to northern Queensland.
Since the skinks were found in an area near Mareeba designated for quarrying a few years ago, our local team has been supporting the site’s owner to understand and manage impacts through a program of regular field monitoring for this vulnerable species.
Heading to the Tablelands for a five-day monitoring trip every quarter, our team isn’t just contributing to the ecological body of knowledge about Ctenotus monticola, they are creating it.
Using a combination of observation and trapping techniques, RPS ecologists spend a full eight hours per day recording skink sightings throughout the study area and carefully capturing the animals to take their measurements.
Recording all of their observations including other animal sightings, these intrepid scientists are establishing a baseline of understanding about Ctenotus monticola populations in the area, their activity, and presence across different seasons.
"So little is known about these skinks - each time we go out to monitor we are learning something new," said Natalie.
“When we capture skinks in the traps, we put an eco-friendly marking on them so we know if they are recaptured later. Over the last three years of studies, we’ve seen recaptures pretty infrequently. It’s like they learn their lesson and avoid the traps.
“Ctenotus monticola are ground dwellers and we see them in dry open woodlands and on the sandplains. While we observe them traversing at ground level and burying themselves in the sand, we’ve also seen them jumping and climbing to avoid our capture setups!
“Snakes and birds are key predators for skinks and we encounter black whip snakes (demansia vestigiata) pretty regularly on our field trips. In fact, we have to keep a close eye on the traps to ensure snakes aren’t getting in and making a meal out of the skinks we capture.
"Despite the large number of potential predators, our studies so far indicate that the population is very healthy,” said Natalie.
With the team documenting measurements for each captured individual, they are beginning to develop a picture of average size and other characteristics for Ctenotus monticola.
“Here in North Queensland we have such incredibly complex eco-systems, and there is so much more to learn about how different species interact and behave.
“Regular monitoring studies are so important not just for learning about individual species but understanding habitats as a whole. When it comes to Ctenotus monticola, we’re not just learning about the character of the skink, we’re learning about role this species plays in the broader story of Atherton Tablelands eco-system.”
Founded in 1970, RPS, A Tetra Tech Company (RPS) is a leading global professional services firm of 5,000 consultants and service providers. Operating in 125 countries, working across six continents we define, design and manage projects that create shared value to a complex, urbanising and resource-scarce world.
RPS delivers a broad range of services in six sectors: property, energy, transport, water, defence and government services and resources. Services provided across RPS' six sectors cover twelve service clusters: project and program management, design and development, water services, environment, advisory and management consulting, exploration and development, planning and approvals, health, safety and risk, oceans and coastal, laboratories, training and communications, creative and digital services.
RPS stands out for its clients by using its deep expertise to solve problems that matter, making them easy to understand. Making complex easy.
For further information, please visit www.rpsgroup.com.