13 June 2022
NOT TOO HOT, NOT TOO COLD: GETTING GREATER GLIDER NEST BOXES JUST RIGHT!
BREAKING NEWS October 2023: Logging has been 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.
Update 11 January 2023: ! Just ten weeks after installation, greater gliders have moved into their ‘Goldilocks’ boxes.
Once upon a time, in the eucalypt forests of eastern Australia, there lived the world’s largest gliding marsupial, the greater glider.
“The greater glider is a specialist in eating eucalypt leaves,” says Dr Kara Youngentob, a Wildlife Ecologist at the Australian National University (ANU). “Unfortunately, though, it often plays second fiddle to the koala. They're much harder to see, and they live in places where people tend not to be, so they're often unknown. But when you do see them, they're just the most fascinating animal.”
The devastating bushfires of 2019-20 destroyed close to a third of all greater glider habitat. This fascinating nocturnal animal, about the size of a cat, though only a fraction of the weight, is experiencing its most existential threat to date. “Greater gliders use hollows to nest in,” explains Dr Youngentob, “and they prefer hollows from really old trees”. These hollows can take up to 250 years to form.
With so many old trees already lost to logging, landclearing and an increase in catastrophic fires due to worsening climate change, the already under-threat greater glider faces an even greater shortage of the tree hollows crucial to their survival.
To build resilience into these landscapes and help greater gliders move back into burnt areas, WWF-Australia, in partnership with Greening Australia and ANU, set about creating hi-tech nest boxes which mimic the hollows of old trees.
"I've been affectionately calling them Goldilocks boxes,” says Dr Kita Ashman, Threatened Species and Climate Adaption Ecologist at WWF-Australia. “Greater gliders have thermal requirements. They can't get too hot, and it's also good if they don't get too cold. We need a nest box that will be able to buffer them from those extreme temperatures, so we wanted to design something with our partners that would prevent that from happening. Something that will keep them not too hot, not too cold, but just that perfect temperature where they can become more resilient in these climate change scenarios.”
To create a nest box that best simulates the natural environment of an old tree hollow, the team has used many different materials.
Drew Liepa, the Senior Program Officer at Greening Australia, says, “The base material for the nest boxes is marine ply. There's also a reflective paint product, which is fire retardant. Internally the nest boxes are lined with a hardwood ply between the internal insulation, with an air gap to help the box perform thermally.”
The fire-retardant paint was also chosen for its ability to reflect up to 70% of the radiant heat from the sun. Brad Blake, the Project Manager at ProCon Pest & Wildlife Management, says, “We just started thinking about what they need in the natural habitat, and then trying to copy that basically, and trying to get longevity in these boxes too. We're still constantly redesigning them and looking at all the different kinds of boxes to build for this species.”
The project so far has deployed 234 nest boxes in total, 114 in East Gippsland and another 120 in Tallaganda National Park.
Jenna Ridley, a PhD researcher at ANU, says, “These nest box sites were chosen based on greater glider abundance. We wanted to make sure that greater gliders were in the vicinity of the sites before putting them up. They're pretty slow dispersing animals which means they typically don’t move into new areas very quickly. We also wanted to ensure that these areas had been burnt, and we wanted to make sure that the habitat was older so that it had the potential for greater gliders to want to live there into the future.”
But it’s not just the areas they need to choose; it’s the individual trees as well. Jenna Ridley explains, “Greater gliders prefer to be very high up in the canopy of the tree. So when we pick the individual trees in which the nest boxes go, we're looking for height, we're looking for a big tree that’s safe for tree climbers, and we want something that’s surrounded by good habitat, so into the future, it will be habitable if they happen to take over the nest boxes and reproduce.”
It's a big project involving many people and lots of work. Still, according to Jenna Ridley, this project is not just crucial for the future of greater gliders but also the future of science, and it couldn’t have happened without the dedicated team behind it. “The greater glider nest box project has been highly collaborative,” Jenna said. “It has involved so many people. We could not have done this project without WWF. They have provided excellent leadership and coordination skills. They've also provided funding and been involved every step of the way. They are committed to ensuring that the future of the greater gliders is a good one.”
Drew Liepa concedes, “While it would be preferable to have natural hollows in our bush, nest boxes are the best alternative.”
For the first time in 20 years, Australia’s nature laws are being rewritten. This is a pivotal opportunity to pressure the government to introduce strong laws protecting wildlife, including the greater glider. You can help stop the extinction crisis around by adding your voice!
What more can you do to help greater gliders?
- to help threatened wildlife, including the greater glider, survive and thrive.
- to help regenerate nature and stop the extinction crisis.
- Find out more about the team helping to give greater gliders a fighting chance of survival.
- about Australia’s nature laws.
- about greater gliders.
- to find out if greater gliders could live there and how well they’re being looked after.