The Great Poo Hunt 2014

The Great Poo Hunt was a scientific survey that collected predator scats (poo) and used genetic testing to identify the animal each scat came from (eg devil, quoll, cat, dog or fox). The survey was first carried out by the Fox Eradication Branch during 2008-2010 and was repeated by the Invasive Species Branch in 2014.

Fox Eradication officers in the field

Staff collecting a scat and recording location data

Due to advances in technology, analysis of scats from the 2014 survey will also identify what animals (prey) the predators have been eating.

The data from this survey will provide valuable information about species distributions and food web interactions in Tasmania. This knowledge will be used to better manage wildlife conservation programs and invasive species in Tasmania.

Background

Prior to 2007, a growing body of evidence indicated fox activity in Tasmania, sparking the roll-out of a statewide predator scat survey, affectionately known as 'The Great Poo Hunt'.

This survey was conducted to provide an indication of possible fox distribution in Tasmania and allow more effective targeting of eradication operations by the Fox Eradication Program. It was conducted in three phases during 2008-2010 and over 6 000 scats were collected during this time. From these scats, 19 tested positive for fox DNA.

In the three phases of the first survey, around 800 survey units (each 3 x 3 km) were surveyed in three geographic areas:
  • Phase 1: north-east Tasmania (2008)
  • Phase 2: central and southern Tasmania (2009)
  • Phase 3: north-west Tasmania (2010)

Scat surveys provide one of the most effective ways to detect elusive animals at low density and have become a key component in monitoring for fox, as well as other invasive species, activity in Tasmania.SCat Survey 2008-2010
First Predator Scat Survey: 2008-2010

Poo Hunt v2.0

As part of an expanded monitoring program to help manage invasive species in Tasmania, the Invasive Species Branch in partnership with the Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre (IA CRC), carried out another predator scat survey in eastern Tasmania during 2014.

Poo Hunt 2014 - Carnivore Scat Collection Survey Map 2014

Carnivore Scat Collection Survey 2014


The 2014 survey was undertaken between March and June and 242 survey units (3 x 3 km) were surveyed across approximately 720 individual properties. Sites were selected from those that were surveyed during phases 1 and 2 and all sites in which fox positive scats were located during the first survey were resurveyed in 2014. Over 2 950 carnivore scats were collected overall and the total kilometres walked by all participants was 4 167.38 (average 17.3 km of search effort per survey unit). Sixty-five volunteers contributed to the collection of scats and over 600 landholders participated in the survey.

This project was designed to gather information that will help identify the location of introduced predators such as feral cats, dogs and foxes, and assess the impact they are having on the Tasmanian environment. Scats from native predators such as Tasmanian devils and quolls were also collected and examined to gather information about their distribution and diet.

By re-visiting sites that were previously surveyed, important information was gained about changes in predator and prey distributions in Tasmania. This is particularly important with the decline of Tasmanian devil populations and the potential increase of introduced predators in their place.


Table 1: Summary of survey statistics from all four phases of the IACRC scat collection surveys.
Phase
(Year)
No. survey
units
completed
Total km's
walked    
No. scats
collected
No. fox positive scats identified
No. volunteers participated
No. landholders participated
No.
properties
surveyed
1 (2008) 284 5 965.5 2 587 4 < 5 701 866
2 (2009) 299 6 152.9 2 168 11 < 5 1606 1819
3 (2010) 200 3 033.8 1 348 1 < 5 1174 1364
4 (2014) 242 4 167.4 2 957 None to date
(Oct 2014)
65 742 877
Totals: 1025 19, 319.6 9060 16 ~80 3832 1038

Some properties and landholders were involved in multiple phases.

 

Survey design

Poo Hunt 2014 - Setting out on a survey

Poo Hunt 2014 - Setting out on a survey (Photo: Robyn Everist)

The scat surveys were conducted in areas classified as 'core fox habitat' in Tasmania, which is largely made up of open landscapes, such as agricultural land and grasslands, and the bordering areas of natural bushland.

Surveys were conducted on foot in autumn as shorter grass at this time offered the greatest chance of locating scats.

Another important consideration for the first scat survey, autumn was the dispersal phase in the fox life cycle, which is when juvenile foxes would be mobile in the landscape and adult foxes are more likely to be holding fixed home ranges.


 

Scat analysis

Great Poo Hunt 2014 - recording a scat in the field

Recording a scat in the field
(Photo: Cat Campbell)

All scats collected are being analysed using the latest DNA analysis techniques at the Institute for Applied Ecology, University of Canberra. In the past, DNA testing involved the use of Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) analysis. This technique was used to identify whether a scat contained fox positive DNA or not, but did not give information about other species.

With recent advances in genetic sequencing technology, a new technique called Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) will be used to not only identify the predator that produced each scat, but also the prey species they had been consuming (including prey provenance ie where the prey came from). NGS is capable of sequencing multiple copies of entire genomes in a single run - this means that every single scat collected can provide a range of information about prey animals and the populations they come from!


Definitive results

By examining DNA of prey species found in predator scats we may also be able to detect some rare native mammal species such as the New Holland mouse Pseudomys novaehollandiae or Tasmanian pygmy possum Cercartetus lepidus that are difficult to find in the wild and in some instances have not been formally recorded for many years.
 
NGS will also provide information that can confirm if a scat has come from a predator living in the Tasmanian landscape or not.


Innovative field test

In addition to the NGS technology, the 2014 survey also trialled a new field DNA swab test that has the potential to provide rapid predator identifications, possibly in less than 48 hours.

So far approximately 1000 of the swabs have been analysed and have tested negative for fox DNA.


A team effort!

The Great Poo hunt would not have been possible without the hard work and assistance of the many volunteers and landholders who supported the surveys since they started back in 2008.

Our 80 volunteer collectors covered over 19 000 kms, taking in over 1 000 properties in collecting 9 000 scats in total, over the four phases of the project. A big thanks is also extended to all the landholders and property owners who allowed access to their properties for the surveys during The Great Poo Hunt.

We could not have done it without all of you - thank you!


Further information


Documents:

Predator Scat Survey 2014 (410 KB)


Visit the Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre website.


For more information about The Great Poo Hunt, please contact:

Contact

Invasive Species Enquiries
Invasive Species Branch
165 Westbury Road
PROSPECT TAS 7250
Phone: 03 6777 2200
Fax: 03 6336 5453
Email: invasivespecies@dpipwe.tas.gov.au

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