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Back in February we proposed Turning Clean Up Australia Day into a VA Environment project. Having started to collect some data from the Diamond Creek we can now start to add some depth to the questions, and focus on the next steps for the project

Platypus Habitat
The initial site survey data from Site #1 (assumed Good Habitat) and Site #2 (assumed Poor Habitat) shows that;

SITE 1: Good water quality, Good habitat instream and on surrounding banks, higher SIGNAL scoring aquatic macroinvertebrates (minibeasts).

SITE 2: Fair water quality, Poor habitat instream and on surrounding banks, bank erosion, lower SIGNAL scoring aquatic macroinvertebrates (minibeasts).

(SIGNAL stands for ‘Stream Invertebrate Grade Number – Average Level.’)

How does this correlate with published information regarding platypus habitat?

The platypus occurs in freshwater and occasionally brackish streams, creeks, lakes and ponds. These vary from shallow creeks with pools and riffles to large deep rivers. When out of the water, platypus live in burrows which are dug into the bank of the water body. Burrows are usually short and simple in construction with the entrance either above or below the water level, and often under a tangle of tree roots
— Carrick, F.N. (1995) Platypus. Pp. 36-38.
In R. Strahan (ed) The Mammals of Australia. Reed Books, Sydney.

They seem to prefer steep-sided well vegetated banks and shallow channels. Platypus construct two types of burrows: nesting burrows and shelter burrows. Shelter burrows are normally rather short and simple, extending up to 2m long with a submerged entrance and no branches. Nesting burrows are longer (5m), with 2 or more entrances up to 80cm above the water line, normally on almost vertical banks. In dividuals may utilise up to a dozen burrows and can sometimes be found sharing a burrow, although it is thought that platypus are generally solitary animals. [2]

What is a ‘platypus paradise’?
…a clear, pristine, sheltered rock pool of fresh water in a quiet slow-moving forest stream. It has
relatively steep earth banks held by root systems or native shrubs. The stream flows slowly through areas of native vegetation and rocks. It has plants overhanging its banks to conceal the entrances to the burrows. It provides a range of different habitats for the insects that live on the bottom of the ponds. It also has mud on the bottom that shelters many different invertebrate species. On the banks are rocks and rotting vegetation and the over hanging branches deposit leaf litter in the stream to rot down and provide food for the insects. The platypus burrow system is complex and for breeding involves the female platypus excavating a burrow that terminates in a nest chamber above water level. She will plug up the entrance when she is ready to lay eggs.
[3]

Ideal habitat for the platypus is a fairly shallow river or stream with relatively steep earth banks consolidated by the roots of native vegetation and with its growth overhanging the bank. The river should have a diversity of habitats for benthic invertebrates (the main food source), including aquatic vegetation and logs, and consist of a series of distinct pools of less than 5 metres depth, with little sand accumulation and separated by cobbled riffle areas (Grant 1995). Riparian vegetation is an important component for a number reasons. Firstly, the roots help consolidate the banks and hence protect the platypus burrows from collapsing, and secondly, the overhanging vegetation provides cover from predators when they enter or leave their burrows. Riparian vegetation also creates suitable habitat in the stream for benthic invertebrate food species by providing shade, food material and habitat diversity (Riding and Carter 1992, Cummins 1993). … Studies in the Yarra River catchment, Victoria, found that undercut banks were favoured for burrows, although some were also found in banks with vertical or convex profiles (Serena pers. comm.). It was also observed that burrows were only located in banks where the burrow chamber could be sited at least 0.5 metres above the water level. Increasing amounts of bank rock, boulder and cobble cover also decreases the suitability for construction of burrows (Woon and Laxdal 1993). As an increasing proportion of the river bank is taken up with rock there is a decreasing amount of bank potentially available for digging burrows. [4]

Platypus Diet
Based on the sampling at Site #1 and Site #2, do we have any data that supports a narrative regarding the platypus diet and availability of appropriate food?

In the wild platypus feed on a wide variety of freshwater adult and larval invertebrates including dragonflies and caddisflies (Table 2). Small vertebrates are also eaten including fishes and frogs. The platypus has a complex bill apparatus that it uses to sift smaller prey items. They appear to be able to find their food by detecting the weak electrical impulses of invertebrates when they move their exoskeleton. Once food is picked up and sifted, it is stored in large cheek pouches, which is then thoroughly masticated while floating on the surface of the water.
— 3.5 Wild Diet and Feeding Behaviour [1]

They feed on a range of invertebrates including: shrimp, mayfly larvae, caddisfly larvae, molluscs and fly larvae. They have a large appetite and can spend up to half of the day trolling for food. [2]

What do platypus eat?
Platypus feed on invertebrates living in the muddy zones of the creeks at all stages of their life cycles (as larvae, adults and eggs). Mayflies and Caddis fly larvae have been found in the cheek pouches of platypus in many areas. The complex bill can seek out prey, sort it, pick it up and sift it, then store it in cheek pouches to be thoroughly masticated while floating on the water surface. Caddis flies look like little walking sticks that use external objects such as wood to weave a web around themselves. They are very sensitive to changes in water quality such as increased phosphates that flow from agriculture into waterways. Mayflies spend most of their time as nymphs in water and are only adults on land for a brief few days to breed. Small molluscs are also eaten. Platypuses also eat worms, snails, freshwater shrimps, yabbies, frogs and tadpoles. (At Healesville Sanctuary, the captive platypus diet per day: 60 grams of earthworms, 50 grams of mealworms, 20-30 grams of yabbies, 40grams of fly pupae and 60 grams of Tubifex worms when available). Platypus sometimes eat small fish. (Native fish species include Short-finned Eel Tupong, Short-headed Lamprey, Australian Grayling, Common Galaxias, Broad-finned Galaxias and Spotted Galaxias.) They can eat half their bodyweight in a day and lactating females eat even more. [3]

Even in streams with good habitat there are only about 1 or 2 platypus per kilometre of stream. The population size adjusts according to the amount of available food. [3]

The abundance of food within a river is one of the major determinants of platypus abundance. Most platypuses emerge from their burrows after dusk, spend much of the night feeding and then return at dawn. Occasionally some animals will also feed during the day. They search for food by fossicking with their bills along the river bottom and will collect food from both the slow moving and rapid (riffle) areas of streams. The bill is equipped with a sensory system that includes both an array of touch receptors (Bohringer and Rowe 1977; Rowe and Bohringer 1992) and electroreceptors capable of detecting the tiny electrical fields emitted by muscle contractions of their prey (Scheich et al. 1986, Gregory et al. 1987).
Most of their diet consists of insect larvae such as caddis fly (Trichoptera), fly (Diptera) and mayfly (Ephemeroptera), along with other bottom dwelling (benthic) macroinvertebrates such as shrimps and molluscs (Faragher et al 1979, Grant 1982). They tend to be opportunists to the extent that their diet varies depending on the availability of different food types.
Many instream factors are related to the productivity and structure of the benthic community, including pH, turbidity, nutrient loading, conductivity, water temperature, sedimentation and leaf litter input, and these may therefore indirectly affect platypus abundance.
[4]

LINKS:
[1] Platypus Ornithorhynchus anatinus Captive Husbandry Guidelines [Healesville Sanctuary]
[2] Platypus Ornithorhynchus anatinus DESCRIPTION AND CHARACTERISTICS [Waterwatch]
[3] Project Platypus: Background Information [Healesville Sanctuary]
[4] Scott, A., and Grant, T. (1997) Impacts of water management in the Murray-Darling Basin on the platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) and the water rat (Hydromys chrysogaster). [CSIRO Technical Report]

WATERWATCH:
[5] Waterwatch Victoria (1999) Methods Manual, June 1999, Equipment Manual, April 1999
[6] Waterwatch NSW (2010) Junior Waterwatch Field Manual
[7] Waterwatch NSW (2010) Senior Waterwatch Field Manual
[8] Waterwatch NSW (2010) Senior Waterwatch Field Manual: Waterbug Detective Guide
[9] Waterwatch ACT (2010) Resource Manual
[10] Chessman, B. (2001) SIGNAL 2. A SCORING SYSTEM FOR MACRO-INVERTEBRATES (‘WATER BUGS’) IN AUSTRALIAN RIVERS User manual, Version 2, November 2001.
[11] Waterwatch QLD (2007) Queensland community waterway monitoring manual
[12] Sydney Water, Streamwatch (2005) Streamwatch water bug guide
[13] Sydney Water, Streamwatch (20??) Streamwatch manual

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VA-Environment

Scope
Encourage Venturer Scouts to think critically about environment issues, leading to a shared understanding about individual responsibility for the environment.

1.) Take part in a practical environmental project requiring at least 10 hours of effort and some investigation through research and reflection (these aspects may be concentrated into an intensive weekend/s or spread over longer periods).
The project should be pursued in a specified locality or localities and must involve at least three of the following areas:
o sources of clean water and clean air in the local environment
o sufficient natural habitats exist to support native species
o minimising the risk of harmful substances to people and the environment
o using most suitable environmental practices
o preparing to respond to environmental hazards and natural disasters.
(Note- these are part of the requirements for the World Scout Environment Badge.)

The project should be defined in advance with the Unit Council.
A properly formatted handwritten or word processed report of 250 to 300 words should be provided about the project. It should include:
o what you did
o why you did this
o how you did it
o what you learned from this

2.) Discuss the Australian Scout Environment Charter

A Project
Our Unit get involved with Clean Up Australia Day, generally we end up in the Diamond Creek removing some serious amounts of rubbish, but although this is good service to the community it is not ticking the boxes for Venturer Award Environment.

What if we extend the day to cover Venturer Award Environment?

platypus

HABITAT FOR PLATYPUS ON THE DIAMOND CREEK IN ELTHAM
The Diamond Creek run along side our Scout Hall and forms the natural backdrop for many of the activities that we have in and around the hall. Within the linear park along the Creek at Eltham we now have a resident breeding population of Platypus.

* Victorian Biodiversity Atlas, Geographic Distribution Map: Platypus in the Diamond Creek (PDF) and a closeup from Eltham North to the Yarra (PDF)

❝ In the Yarra River catchment, platypus populations have been recorded along the Plenty River, Bruces Creek, Ruffey Creek, Diamond Creek, Running Creek, Arthurs Creek, Watsons Creek, Mullum Mullum Creek, Andersons Creek, Olinda Creek, Steels Creek, Sassafras Creek, Emerald Creek, Menzies Creek, Stringybark Creek, Watts River, Grace Burn Creek, Badger Creek, Woori Yallock Creek, Wandin Yallock Creek, Cockatoo Creek, Hoddles Creek, the Little Yarra River, Big Pat’s Creek and the Yarra itself.
The APC/MW survey program has established that the breeding population in the Yarra River is now resident as far downstream as Heidelberg. In addition, in recent years, platypus have been increasingly observed in the Kew/Fairfield area – i.e. less than 10 kilometres from the city-centre – suggesting that re-colonisation is starting to occur along the most urbanised section of the river and its inner-city tributaries. (However, in this regard it is important to note that a December 2003 survey of the lower reaches of Darebin Creek did not find any platypus.)
In the meantime, platypus continue to be found in increased numbers along the middle suburban tributaries of the Yarra, especially Mullum Mullum Creek, Diamond Creek and the Plenty River. The combined platypus capture success rate for the lower sections (0-3 kilometres from the Yarra) of these three creeks over the second five year period of surveys (1999-2004) is 22% higher than the comparable rate for the first five years (1995-1999), suggesting strongly that platypus numbers have risen significantly in the Yarra’s urbanised reaches. ❞ [2]

platypus

❝ Likewise, recolonisation of Diamond Creek has also been pronounced. Platypus now can be found as far upstream as Wattle Glen. Platypus usage along the lowest reach of Diamond Creek (i.e. Yarra to Eltham) has more than doubled for the 1999-2004 period compared to 1995-1999. In the next section upstream (i.e. North Eltham-Diamond Creek township) the situation has gone from no platypus found at all in the early period to a resident breeding population in the 1999-2004 period. ❞ [2]

What makes a for good habitat for the platypus in the Diamond Creek? Could we investigate this as our VA Environment project and then expand this into bigger local projects? This sounds like the beginnings of a much larger investigation ans series of projects!

1.) Water Quality
sources of clean water and clean air in the local environment
What impact does water quality have on platypus habitat? We will survey at know platypus habitat and non-platypus habitat; water depth, temperature, turbidity, ph and salinity. Can we draw any conclusions from this information alone?

2.) Site survey
sufficient natural habitats exist to support native species
Using field naturalist techniques we will investigate what impact the local micro environment has on the platypus habitat We will survey at know platypus habitat and non-platypus habitat; creek cross section describing and sketching the relationship between the creek and the bank, has any bank stabilisation works been performed?, a rocky or sandy creek bed?, are there any submerged trees or logs?, rapids – riffles – still water?
Can we draw any conclusions from this information alone?

Does the adjacent vegetation community have an impact on platypus habitat?
Vegetation survey using a line transect across several sites.

Install repeatable photo transects.

3.) Rubbish
minimising the risk of harmful substances to people and the environment
Is there any rubbish or dumping that can be identified as being present in non-platypus habitat that is not present in platypus habitat. Can we focus on removing this rubbish in our future clean up days?

Participate in (or organise, if necessary) “Clean Up” days along your local waterway.
Australian Platypus Conservancy.

Extension
* Platypus spotting
* Guest speaker from Australian Platypus Conservancy or Field Naturalists
* Observe Platypus behavior at Heallesville Sanctuary

REF:
[1] Victorian Biodiversity Atlas [Department of Environment and Primary Industries, Victoria]
[2] Platypus in Urban Areas [Australian Platypus Conservancy]

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