13 June 2023
KEEPING TRACK OF THE ELUSIVE GREATER GLIDER WITH GPS COLLARS
BREAKING NEWS: Logging has been temporarily suspended in Tallaganda State Forest after an Endangered greater glider was found deceased just 50 metres from the logging site.
We only have a small window to secure permanent protection for this area - one of the last places of refuge for greater gliders. - sign the petition or donate.
Have you ever seen a greater glider? How could you not love that little face and those fluffy ears!
As adorable as they are, these Endangered, gliding marsupials face an uncertain future. It’s become increasingly rare to spot greater gliders in the wild as they struggle to survive amidst a growing number of threats.
Dr Kita Ashman is WWF-Australia’s Threatened Species and Climate Adaptation Ecologist and our resident greater glider enthusiast. Kita recently visited the NSW Tallaganda State Forest with our partners at the University of Sydney. Their goal? To find and track greater gliders in the wild using an innovative technology that’s never been deployed on this species - GPS collars.
We spoke to Kita to hear about this important research helping protect this gizmo-like native animal.
Why are greater gliders Endangered?
In 2022, greater gliders, once commonly found throughout Australia, In just six years, greater gliders went from no listing to being classified as Vulnerable to extinction and then Endangered to extinction. Sadly, their numbers have declined by up to 80% due to deforestation and climate change impacts. Rising temperatures and more frequent and severe bushfires are major threats to gliders. The 2019-20 bushfires had a particularly devastating impact on greater gliders, destroying close to a third of their habitat.
The uplisting of this once-common species is an important reminder that the fate of our precious wildlife can change rapidly. That’s why it’s so important to invest in monitoring tools like GPS collars to understand how gliders cope in fire-affected habitats and how we can help them recover.
How do the GPS collars work?
This study marks one of the first attempts to track the movements of greater gliders using GPS collars. Previous research relied on radio tracking, which provided essential baseline data once upon a time. Still, it lacked the detail we now have access to, thanks to the miniaturisation of GPS technology.
Finding collars small enough, not more than four per cent of a glider’s body weight, proved tricky because some greater gliders weigh only one kilogram! But this factor is crucial so the collars don’t hinder the gliders’ movements or behaviour. The researchers at the University of Sydney found a design that worked, and now we have GPS collars that update every 30 minutes. They provide a fine-scale look into the everyday habits of greater gliders.
We’re tracking gliders across burnt and unburnt habitats to compare movement patterns. By analysing the differences, we can identify areas where they’re more susceptible to threats like predation and can figure out measures we can take to support their recovery.
What is the process of collaring a greater glider?
Greater gliders are nocturnal and notoriously elusive, so tracking and collaring them is no easy task!
We can be in-the-field for days at a time, enduring early mornings and late nights as we navigate the forest. Once we’ve found suitable glider habitat, the real work begins. Gliders live in tree hollows, which can take up to 250 years to form, so we have to climb up the tree to retrieve them. Then we carefully carry the glider back down to collar it and give it a health check. Finally, we climb back up the tree to return the glider to its home.
Once collared, we track the gliders for a month. After 30 days, we return to remove the collars and conduct a final health check before release. The data collected over this time is then analysed to calculate ‘home ranges’ based on their movements and determine how we can provide support both on-the-ground and by updating protections for the species. The whole process is quite a challenge, but it’s so rewarding knowing the information we gather contributes to saving this Endangered species.
Why is this research so important?
Greater gliders are a key indicator species for the health of forests. Their presence indicates a thriving and vibrant ecosystem, so by ensuring the well-being of gliders, we can safeguard all the other species that rely on the same habitat.
This research is so important because greater glider numbers are rapidly declining. Their shift from being a common species to Endangered occurred in an alarmingly short period of time, and we need to do all we can to help protect them.
Want to help greater gliders? Here’s how you can get involved:
- to help save native wildlife.
- some interesting facts about greater gliders, including why they’re considered property tycoons!
- and urge your local federal government representative for stronger nature laws.
- if there could be greater gliders in your backyard.
- of greater gliders using hi-tech nest boxes installed to help their recovery in bushfire-affected areas.
about the team helping to give greater gliders a fighting chance of survival.