Application for Scientific Permit – Available for Public Comment
Public comment on the following application for a Scientific Research (Fauna) Permit is open until 18 January 2021
Applicant: University of Tasmania
Species/Taxon: Little penguin (Eudyptula minor)
Location: Tasmania-wide on private (pending land manager approval)/reserved/Crown land
Title of research:
The spatial and temporal health of seabirds
Aim of project:
(1) assess the spatial and temporal variability of little penguin health around Bass Strait and Tasmania (2) assess the intrinsic and extrinsic factors that affect individual health (3) investigate the role of disease as a threatening factor to little penguin populations (4) document the occurrence and distribution of little penguins nesting along the east and north coast of Tasmania
As top predators and occupants of marine, coastal and terrestrial environments, seabirds are excellent biological indicators of ecosystem functioning. Commonly regarded as sentinels, their health and fitness are linked to perturbance within marine environments. The waters of Bass Strait, which provide critical habitat for 60% of Australia’s little penguin population, are among the fastest warming on the globe and are the focus of this research. Little penguins are among very few seabird species capable of exploiting peridomestic habitats overlapping with that of human habitation. They are charismatic and ubiquitous marine fauna around Tasmania’s coastlines, drawing millions of dollars through tourism. They inhabit onshore, offshore, highly urbanised and remote locations, and typically forage inshore. The health of little penguins is potentially compromised by a multitude of threats, many are human induced. Unfortunately, there is a lack of knowledge regarding the health of seabirds around Tasmania and threatening processes affecting them.
This project will encapsulate a spatial and temporal health assessment of little penguins occurring around Tasmania and Bass Strait to determine epidemiological status. Variability in morphological, fitness, toxicological, parasitological and haematological indices of health will be assessed in populations around Tasmania and correlated with extrinsic factors pertaining to quality of breeding habitat and environmental variability.
It is anticipated that findings from this research will highlight threatening processes impacting seabird health and inform critical disease surveillance and management strategies. Outcomes from this research will have direct positive implications for the conservation of this species and increase our understanding of coastal seabird ecology around Tasmania. It is expected that outcomes from this research will have value in informing threatened species, wildlife health and coastal management strategies.
Maximum likely numbers of individuals involved:
A maximum of 200 individuals will be sampled within each breeding season, across three field seasons. These individuals will be selected at a geographically representative number of sites across the state. I.e. 20 individuals across 10 sites.
Activities undertaken and methods:
It is proposed to capture individuals by hand and conduct a physical examination. Weight and body measurements will be taken to investigate body condition, ectoparasites (ticks, fleas, lice) and parasites from nesting material will also be collected. A few semiplume (underlayer) feathers will be collected from the chest and mantle to examine stress and toxicology. A cloacal swab will be collected
for microbiome investigations. A microchip will be subcutaneously inserted for mark-recapture investigations to assess individual variation in health across a temporal scale. A blood sample (<1-2% of individual body weight) will be collected from the medial metatarsal vein. This will be used to assess immune function, blood profile and screen for blood pathogens.
Fate of animals:
Individuals will be returned to the location of capture to resume natural behaviour upon the conclusion of sampling. Microchipped individuals will be resampled over three breeding seasons, and a maximum of twice within a breeding season to assess temporal variation in health.
Likely impact on species involved (including any by-catch):
It is expected that proposed sampling procedures will have minimal short-term stress impacts through handling and capture disturbance. Individuals are expected to recover fully upon completion of sampling and release. No chronic or long-term impacts are expected from sampling procedures