Reproductive ecology of the eastern long-beaked echidna, Zaglossus bartoni (APSF 09-1)

APSF 09-1 | Amount: $ 44,310 | Project Leader: S Nicol | Project Period: Jul 2009 - Jul 2012

A project undertaken at the School of Zoology, University of Tasmania and supervised by Associate Professor Stewart Nicol

This project is being carried out within the Crater Mountain Wildlife Management Area (CMWMA) in Papua New Guinea, and is a collaboration between the University of Tasmania and Papua New Guinea Institute for Biological Research (PNGIBR). Field work is being undertaken by PhD student Muse Opiang, who is a co-founder of PNGIBR.

Figure 1. tracking transmitter held to echidna hind leg with a Velcro strap.
Figure 2. Invertebrates from echidna scat. This sample shows tarsi from mole crickets, bits from several large scolopendromorph centipedes and two carcasses of a large species of Scarabaeidae. All of these are soil or log dwellers.
Figure 3. A long beaked echidna Z. bartoni.
Figure 4. PhD student Muse Opiang with a long-beaked echidna.

Long-beaked echidnas are the largest, rarest and least studied on the egg-laying mammal. They are restricted to the central cordillera and Huon Peninsula of New Guinea and are listed as critically endangered in the IUCN Red List. Three species have been identified: Z. bruijni in the far west, Z. attenboroughi from the Cyclops Mountains of Papua, and Z. bartoni along the centre of the island. Our knowledge of the general biology, ecology and life history of long-beaked echidnas is very limited – they are cryptic and secretive animals and field studies are very challenging, and most information on their biology comes from captive studies. Long-beaked echidnas are particularly vulnerable to anthropogenic threats e.g. unsustainable subsistence hunting, habitat degradation, and competition with invasive species, particularly feral pigs. The aim of this study is to gather information about the field biology, reproduction, diet and habitat use of long-beaked echidnas that will provide a scientific basis for their management and conservation. We will investigate the current distribution of long-beaked echidnas and the relationship to environmental factors as well as the overlap with human settlements. The effect of habitat fragmentation will be investigated by determining the level of genetic diversity between and within populations. We will also investigate diet, reproductive biology and habitat utilization.