Each year research is carried out in Kakadu National Park to help us understand and better manage the plants, animals and ecosystems. This work is often carried out in conjunction with other research organisations. Following are some of the research projects Kakadu staff have been involved with.
Flora and fauna survey
Every five years, Kakadu conducts a flora and fauna survey. Smaller scale studies have also been carried out on specific species such as fawn antechinus, northern brown bandicoot, common brushtail possum and pale field-rat. While there is evidence of good populations of these species at several locations, the results are not comprehensive enough for us to comment on their status across the park.
Kakadu National Park has an ongoing project with the University of Sydney and the Territory Wildlife Park for the wild release of captive-bred northern quolls (Dasyurus hallucatus) that have been trained to avoid cane toads (Rhinella marina). Initial results suggest this behaviour is passed to their offspring. Also, the project has detected the presence of a larger wild quoll population than was previously thought to exist.
Researchers are gathering information to better understand the impact of sea level rise on Kakadu. Information being collected includes the amount of water flowing in the rivers, the amount of mud being carried and the height of the tides. This information will be modelled and will help us better understand what is happening now and what might happen to Kakadu’s freshwater floodplains if sea levels rise.
River sharks and sawfish
Researchers from the National Environment Research Program are making monthly forays along Kakadu’s South Alligator River investigating the population size and movements of the critically endangered largetooth sawfish and two species of river shark. These species are rare in Australia and some of the best populations are found in Kakadu. The outcomes of the research will help us better manage and protect the sawfish and river sharks.
Each year Kakadu National Park staff, traditional owners and volunteers survey flatback turtles on Gardangarl (Field Island), which lies just off the coast and forms part of the park. It provides crucial habitat for flatback turtles, which are listed nationally as a vulnerable species. This research has occurred since the 1980s and every year since approx 1995. Results of the survey show the turtle numbers have remained steady with the team recording an average of three or four turtles a night.
Small mammal decline
Following the trend in southern Australia, northern Australia faces a decline in native mammal populations. In an effort to understand what may be happening, Kakadu is putting extensive resources in to monitoring threatened populations and attempting to isolate the exact cause. Possible causes include predation by feral animals (such as cats), habitat destruction (by feral animals such as pigs), inappropriate fire regimes and disease (introduced by black rats). Kakadu is working with a range of partners to find some answers.
In October 2013 a project between National Environmental Research Program, Northern Australia Hub, the Northern Territory Government and Charles Darwin University built two mesh fence enclosures to keep feral cats out of an area in Kakadu. Over the next few years scientists will compare the number of mammals within the fenced ‘cat-free’ area with mammal numbers in other areas.