Mark Grant

Science communicator and sustainability professional: providing writing, editing and communication services in the fields of science, sustainability, geography, ecology, marine science, ecosystem science, and more. Outreach and social media for the Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network at the U of Queensland.

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Mapping the Platypus Century

More than 100 years of platypus observations for 277 waterways across the breadth of Tasmania are now available for download via the Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network’s Eco-informatics’ ÆKOS data portal. The acronym ÆKOS stands for the Australian Ecological Knowledge and Observation System – they’re online at

Mucormycosis, caused by the fungal pathogen Mucor amphibiorum, has infected Tasmanian platypus for almost three decades. The disease causes skin lesions, morbidity and mortality. The Tasmanian Platypus Survey was conducted in 2008 and 2009 and aimed to

  • Document the distribution of the fungal disease mucormycosis in Tasmanian platypus through time and space.
  • Investigate influences of the fungal disease mucormycosis on the hematology, plasma biochemistry and other indicators of health in platypus.
  • Examine body size and demographic patterns in Tasmanian platypus.

The scientists responsible for collecting and compiling the information were Nick Gust and Josh Griffiths. The 2008-2009 live trapping surveys were undertaken to determine the spread, prevalence and persistence of the disease. In addition, demographic (sex, age), morphometric (body size) and health and moult condition of captured individuals were assessed. Furthermore, influences of mucormycosis on the hematology, plasma biochemistry and other indicators of health in platypus were investigated.

Methods included live trapping across three categories of waterways: those that were historically affected by mucormycosis, those that were possibly affected and those outside the known distribution of the disease.

Over 200 platypuses were caught and microchipped, measured, sexed and examined for health and condition indicators. These indicators included Tail Volume Index, fur moult status and evidence of parasites, and ulcers caused by mucormycosis.

The Tasmanian Platypus Survey dataset has been submitted into ÆKOS by the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment (DPIPWE) and contains historic records from 1901 to 2007 that were compiled and analysed to run a comprehensive survey across Tasmania and King Island between 2008 and 2009.

Open-access via ÆKOS is, for the first time, enabling the general public and the ecosystem science community to view and download site data on platypus observations, collection methods and the relationship among observations.

The addition of the Tasmanian Platypus Survey to the ÆKOS data portal not only provides increased accessibility to the data set for researchers, but also contributes to the enduring knowledge base for this precious creature.

This is the first data set that DPIPWE has worked to make transparent within the ÆKOS Data Portal. Following its successful integration, the Agency is enthusiastic to identify further data sets that may be suitable for the ÆKOS Data Portal. The Agency is also working to integrate the Tasmanian Platypus Survey within their State information management system, the Natural Values Atlas.

Platypus Survey Data, Tasmania (1901 – 2009) contains 277 study locations – AEKOS Portal

Flying Above the Treetops – Lasers, drones, and tree climbers at Warra

Equipped with a mountain of high-tech reminiscent of science fiction flicks, scientists and volunteers have just spent a week working in the World Heritage Area of Tasmania to measure the composition and architecture of tall eucalypt forests that have regenerated naturally from past wildfires.

This video above was acquired by Arko Lucieer (UTAS) with a small quadcopter (DJI Vision+) during a TERN AusCover field campaign in the old growth forest of southern Tasmania. The footage is of the Warra flux tower, which towers at 80 m over a 50-60 m tall canopy of wet eucalyptus forest. The data was collected as part of a airborne hyperspectral campaign and field campaign to measure forest properties. The small unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) was flown at about 120 m above the ground, with its high-resolution camera capturing 300 images every 5-minute flight. The overlapping images captured during each flight are stitched together and used by scientists to make 3D models of the forest canopy’s structure.

Recently, a group of scientists and volunteers from the University of Tasmania, the University of Queensland, the CSIRO, and Forestry Tasmania descended on the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area for a week of field work supported by TERN’s AusCover facility.

The team used a suite of high-tech equipment, including laser scanners, drones and planes to scan, measure and document the state of the forest at TERN’s Warra Tall Eucalypt SuperSite, part of the Australian SuperSite Network.

The Warra SuperSite is partly within the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, which is managed for conservation, and partly within State forest, which is managed for multiple purposes including wood production. The site was established in 1998 to better understand the fundamental ecological processes in E. obliqua forests, to assess the rich biodiversity, and to determine the long-term effects of forest management regimes.

A drone and TERN’s DWEL terrestrial laser scanner were just part of a suite of high-tech equipment that scientists used to measure and document the forest like never before.  It wasn’t all fun and games for the team though, with a heap of data waiting for processing at the end of a long day of work (photos courtesy of Peter Scarth)

Over the week of fieldwork, ground-based teams used advanced terrestrial laser scanners, including TERN’s new DWEL scanner, to capture the three-dimensional structure of the forest beneath the forest canopy within a 25 square kilometre area. A tree climber, a slingshot, and a sharp shooter were all used to sample leaves from high in the canopy to learn about their spectral signatures and chemical composition.

For the first time in the AusCover project’s history, several small drones, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), carrying multiple sensors were deployed by the coordinator of the AusCover Tasmania node, Arko Lucieer from the University of Tasmania. These UAVs were deployed to capture imagery from a unique perspective above the forest. The drone generated 3D models of the forest, and collected infrared images that will enable scientists to learn about the variety of tree species present in the forest. These UAV observations also allow researchers to link the detailed ground observations to the satellite observations covering much larger areas.

Airborne Research Australia (ARA), a research wing of Flinders University, also conducted a number of flights over the site, during which the aircraft used advanced hyperspectral and LiDAR scanning to measure the 3D structure of trees and discover how the trees absorb and scatter light.

AusCover collaborator Dr Peter Scarth, of the University of Queensland, was one of those carrying out the fieldwork and says that all the data collected will be made openly accessible via AusCover’s data portal to help facilitate new science. These new datasets will help to answer complex questions about the composition and role of this ecosystem, including the total biomass and carbon stored in these old forests.

‘Trips like this are a significant investment in both time and money so it’s critical that all the data collected is captured in a way so that nothing is lost, it has comprehensive metadata and becomes free to access and reuse,’ writes Peter in his comprehensive online blog about the field campaign.  ‘…Our various devices automatically uploaded over 500mb of data as soon as we were back in mobile range to the AusCover ODK Aggregate server so it’s safely backed up and ready to access using standard database tools. From here, it will be merged with any instrument data, checked for errors, and then uploaded to the AusCover portal for anyone to access. Cool.’

Arko Lucieer  who led the weeklong Warra field campaign, says that such research and data provision wouldn’t be possible without the infrastructure provided by TERN and the support it receives via the Federal Government’s National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS).

‘The collaboration of ecologists and remote sensing scientists using state-of-the-art sensor technology allows us to answer difficult questions about these complex ecosystems,’ says Arko.

For example, research and data collection exercises such as these have already led to a better understanding of how harvesting methods for use in tall, wet eucalypt forests can meet social, ecological and silvicultural objectives while still being safe and productive.

This project is just one illustration of how TERN’s shared research infrastructure is allowing Australia’s ecosystem scientists to collaborate and synthesise effectively across regions and disciplines.

‘So that was a wrap – the week went really well and we achieved all we set out to collect, and more,’ concludes Peter on his blog. ‘Thanks to all the team and the Forestry Tasmania folk who came down to help, discuss, lug gear, cook, wash up, climb over decaying logs, work ridiculous hours and above all have a great time, share and learn from each other.’


  • To read more about the fieldwork at Warra click here to view Peter’s blog.
  • For more information on AusCover’s fieldwork at Warra and Arko’s research on drones for environmental monitoring click here and here.
  • For more information on TERN’s DWEL scanner click here and here.
  • For more information on Airborne Research Australia please contact Flinders University’s Jorg M. Hacker.

(A press release from TERN -the Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network) – Thanks to Mark Grant