Though protected as a native species under State and Federal legislation, the platypus warrants no specific management or conservation requirements and is essentially afforded the same consideration as abundant native species such as the magpie, eastern grey kangaroo, and kookaburra. This is primarily due to platypus being IUCN listed in the ‘of least concern’ category. While a number of studies have shown the platypus to be incredibly resilient to negative shifts in environmental quality, others have indicated dramatic impacts. The fact of the matter remains that we simply do not confidently know:
How much is too much? That is, what environmental factors are platypuses sensitive to, and to what degree;
How few is too few? That is, the minimum acceptable population abundance to maintain genetic diversity and species persistence in the event of a major limiting event, such as disease or acute habitat toxicity; and,
Location, location, location! That is, it may be that different factors are at play in different localities, and so protection for the species may need to be considered on a regional case-by-case basis.
As part of a year-long undergraduate research project, University of Western Sydney student Sara Judge has been working alongside Lithgow Environment Group to try and answer some of these questions. The premise of the project is to begin building a preliminary assessment of how the various forms of extensive, long-term land-use between Wallerawang and Hartley may be impacting the local platypus population and the environmental resources upon which they depend: the benthic macro-invertebrate food source, the aquatic environment, and riparian integrity for burrow sites. The project includes two other target species: the eastern water rat and a selection of water birds. All three species groups occupy a similar habitat profile and share the same IUCN listing as ‘of least concern’, providing some interesting grounds for comparison.
It is hoped that at the conclusion of the project, the findings will assist in the direction of future monitoring and study of the Lithgow platypuses over a longer-term, providing invaluable contribution towards their management and protection. The final report will be made publicly available on the LEG website at the conclusion of the study, along with images and footage from remote-sense wildlife cameras being used as part of the project.