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Wednesday, May 12, 2021
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Puppy power to monitor dragons

A springer spaniel detection dog named Tommy is using his nose to help the ACT Parks and Conservation Service monitor the iconic and endangered Grassland Earless Dragon.

Declared as an endangered species in 1996, the Grassland Earless Dragon faces major threats such as overgrazing, drought and climate change. The species is likely to be listed as critically endangered in the near future.

As part of its long-standing monitoring program, the ACT Parks and Conservation Service has been investigating innovative ways to survey the species.

Currently, monitoring involves four staff undertaking regular checks over a period of seven weeks. However, Tommy can identify and respond to the scent of Grassland Earless Dragons across a 20-metre square area within one minute – a fraction of the time it takes a human ranger searching by eye.

Grassland Earless Dragon

The pilot program paves the way for more efficient and effective monitoring of the native species.

Meanwhile, a recent study into the Grassland Earless Dragon has determined that what was once thought to be one species is in fact four, and one of these is specific to Canberra.

A joint genetic and taxonomic study conducted by Museums Victoria, South Australia Museum, the University of Canberra and the University of Melbourne, has revealed the new findings in a paper published on 23 May in Royal Society Open Science.

Professor Stephen Sarre from the University of Canberra’s Institute for Applied Ecology (IAE) said that the findings have important implications for Canberra.

“Not only does our beloved Canberra Grassland Earless Dragon get a change of scientific name to Tympanocryptis lineata, but this change means that its distribution is now confined to some small remnant patches of grassland in the ACT and nearby Queanbeyan,” he said.

“The populations of Grassland Earless Dragons that live near Cooma, which were formerly believed to be the same as those living in the ACT, have also been recognised as distinct. They have been named after prominent ACT ecologist and IAE Adjunct, Dr Will Osborne.”

The Canberra Grassland Earless Dragon also looks slightly different from the others. It has a longer tail, a wider snout and somewhat longer hind limbs than the other species.

The four new species are spread across south-eastern Australia and are found in Canberra, Victoria (Tympanocryptis pinguicolla), near Cooma (Tympanocryptis osbornei) and near Bathurst (Tympanocryptis mccartneyi).

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