RPS ecologists writing the story of North Queensland skink

02 Sep 2021

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.

Ctenotus monticola skink captured by RPS Environmental Scientist, Natalie May in North Queensland

Ctenotus monticola is a species of skink native to North Queensland, Australia

 

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.

Ctenotus monticola skink trapping setup for field monitoring in North Queensland

Traps set up by our team allow them to capture animals to document key information about Ctenotus monticola populations on the Atherton Tablelands.

 

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.”

 

Read more RPS biodiversity stories>>

Contact

Natalie May, Senior Environmental Scientist, Cairns, Queensland, Australia

Natalie May

Senior Environmental Scientist +61 7 4031 1336 EMAIL

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