The Great Australian Platypus Search is the largest systematic investigation of platypuses ever undertaken, assessing over 1800 sites throughout all Victorian river basins. Odonata Foundation partnered with EnviroDNA to develop a national aquatic monitoring program utilising eDNA and citizen scientists to generate landscape scale data. This survey was launched in response to the platypus being listed as Vulnerable in Victoria and the evident need for systematic data to improve understanding of the species’ true conservation status, help identify major threats and inform management interventions.
Credit: Doug Gimesy
Prior to this project, obtaining landscape scale data on platypuses was impossible to accumulate due to limitations of traditional monitoring techniques. Live-trapping and observational survey techniques can have poor sensitivity to detect platypuses at low abundance and are difficult to implement over large spatial scales.
Water sampling for eDNA was undertaken from September 2021 to January 2022 at 1,800 sites throughout all Victorian river basins. Samples were collected in duplicate using eDNA filter kits. Citizen scientists and collaborative organisations registered their interest for selected sites. By involving citizen scientists, this project was able to raise awareness of broader river health and conservation issues in the community.
A total of 3,898 eDNA samples were analysed for presence of platypus. EnviroDNA analysed water samples using real-time qPCR assays, using species-specific markers that target a small region of the mitochondrial DNA. Every water sample was processed using rigorous laboratory processes to ensure accuracy of results.
Figure 1. Results shown from EnviroDNA report of GAPS eDNA surveys from 1611 sites across Victoria. Site samples are indicated by a circle with green = detection, yellow = possible detection, grey = not detected. Predicted status of platypuses across Victorian river basins is also shown; green shading = widespread, yellow shading = restricted, grey shading = absent/unknown.
To achieve effective conservation actions, the first step is understanding where vulnerable species are. The Great Australian Platypus Search is an incredible leap for conserving platypus populations in the wild. This survey has filled valuable gaps in knowledge of the status of platypuses at a landscape scale and findings will play an important role in informing targeted conservation management efforts. This data helps confirm their status in each of Victoria’s major river basins, including many areas where no recent data existed.
This project would not have been possible without the contribution of local citizen scientists and the following key project partners and donors:
World Wild Fund for Nature-Australia (WWF-Australia)
Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning
Outback Academy Australia
The Ross Trust
Environment Education Victoria
Planet Warrior Education
Odonata Foundation announced another development to scale up this state-wide search into a national investigation named The Great Australian Wildlife Search. This will roll out eDNA surveys into other states, collecting biodiversity data. EnviroDNA is excited to partner with Odonata Foundation to continue critical eDNA-based surveys for detecting Australia’s unique fauna.