Friday, June 24, 2011

Wesley Vale Project: Progress Report

Back in 1987 while employed with the Queen Victoria Museum, I became a field assistant to Dr. T. D. Shwaner who at the time was working for the South Australian Museum as a molecular Biologist, studying Island snake populations on Mt. Chappell Island. Dr. Schwaner, or Terry, took me under his wing and allowed me to become more personally involved, with support from the QVMAG and my own resources I became Co Researcher, with Terry as the principal.

The Chappell Island project lasted almost 10 years before the Island was ceded to the Tasmanian Aboriginal Community, and Terry Moved back to his country of origin, USA.

In 2000 another Island chapter was initiated and along with reptile enthusiast Jane Guy from the QVMAG I embarked on the Wesley Vale Project, where we jointly gathered data on over 300 copperhead and tiger snakes over an eleven-year period.

With so many snakes micro chipped, we were able to establish growth and weight data sets as more and more recaptures eventuated, value adding to the project. 2007-8 saw the beginning of a three-year drought that dried the marshland over that period and decimated the population. 

Large snakes with large body mass were unable to sustain there viability, evidenced by significant mortality amongst the population.
As annual rainfalls increased and the marshland regenerated with a variety of life forms, everything appeared as it was prior to 2007; but alas, not the snakes.

The question now is, was this a natural climatic event that may be a repeat of times past, or climate change, and how resilient is the snake population? These are questions that will drive the research for years into the future, and may prove to be a predictor of climate change, as history repeats itself in similar concentrated populations.

The project now continues under the auspice of Reptile Rescue Inc. Research Institute.

Ian Norton 2011

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