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James Macgregor

Dr James Macgregor VetMB, MVS (Conservation Medicine)

A PhD Thesis
Development of a framework to assess the health of wild platypus populations.
Supervisors

  • Dr Kris Warren
  • Dr Carly Holyoake
  • Dr Ian Robertson
  • Dr Trish Roberton
  • Dr Joanne Connolly
  • Dr Sarah Munks

Research

Although the platypus is still relatively common in parts of its range, there is now increasing concern about the survival of this species, as it is considered vulnerable to escalating environmental degradation; and the gravity of the threat and potential impacts of the disease mucormycosis (caused by the fungus Mucor amphibiorum)remain unknown. Limited research has been performed into various aspects of individual platypus health, and there has been some discussion as to the effects of certain infectious diseases and habitat changes on platypus populations. However, this project is the first to take a more holistic health monitoring approach, in the form of a longitudinal study of a wild platypus population. We aim not only to provide baseline data on individual platypus health throughout a single river catchment, but also to gather data on the effects on this population of ecological factors and land use practices and provide conservation managers with a monitoring tool capable of providing an early warning before large declines in numbers occur.

The project involves performing a comprehensive field study in the Inglis River Catchment in northwest Tasmania, to gather data on the health status of individuals within this population. Platypuses are captured, examined and released at sites at all levels of the catchment, in all seasons, over 24 months. This allows comparisons between individuals, locations, catchment levels, habitats and seasons; as well as monitoring changes across years. Existing data relating to environmental factors are being gathered, to investigate links between health and anthropogenic habitat disturbance. Health and demographic data gathered from individuals include: sex, age, body size, weight, body condition, reproductive status, haematology and biochemistry parameters, serological evidence of leptospirosis and toxoplasmosis, clinical signs/laboratory evidence of mucormycosis and other fungal/bacterial diseases, and levels of internal and external parasites. Population-level research include immunogenetic analysis of platypus samples (performed at the Australasian Wildlife Genomics Group) to determine immunogenetic diversity which can affect the impacts of disease outbreaks;and a public survey of platypus sightings. In addition we are developing the use of instream microchip readers to remotely monitor the long-term movements and survivorship of platypuses microchipped in this and previous studies. Because many platypuses appear to avoid nets after an initial capture, longitudinal studies will find this technique particularly important.

It is hoped that the range of parameters assessed will enable this project to deliver a broadly applicable population health assessment framework, to enable wildlife researchers and managers across Australia to better protect our platypus populations.

Research objectives:

This project’s definitive objective is to develop a comprehensive framework to assess the health of platypus populations. In doing this, the framework will be applied to the platypus population in the Inglis catchment in Tasmania, with the following objectives:

  • Measurement and assessment of a wide range of individual health/disease parameters in the platypus population in the Inglis catchment, including body morphometrics, biochemistry, haematology, internal and external parasitology, and exposure to certain bacterial and fungal diseases. Data is being gathered at all levels of the catchment over the course of two years to provide baseline data for this holistic approach to platypus health.
  • Testing the hypothesis that disease indicators cluster in certain individuals/locations/habitats in the population.
  • Development and use of new ultrasonographic techniques to assess reproductive status and body condition.
  • Assessment of the immunogenetic diversity of the population as a measure of its likely resilience to a disease outbreak. This work is being performed in collaboration with the Australasian Wildlife Genomics Group this project will build on their previous work by applying the same techniques to a large number of platypuses in a single catchment.
  • Perform a survey of public sightings of platypuses
  • Development and use of innovative monitoring methods using remote microchip readers, to investigate longevity and long term movements, including whether platypuses use the same waterway(s) over months/years.
  • New use of remote microchip readers to detect platypuses microchipped in previous studies (past 20 yrs) to investigate longevity.
  • Investigation of whether disease indicators are negatively correlated with longevity, again through novel use of remote microchip readers to monitor platypuses, to help identify factors that lead to mortality in wild platypus populations.
  • Assessment of the relationship between environmental factors and disease indicators.

Conference Presentations

  • Macgregor JW, Warren K, Fleming T, Robertson I, Irwin P, Munks S, Connolly J, Belov K, Lonsdale R, Holyoake C(2012). Platypus populations health in a Tasmanian river catchment and influence of land use practices. Proceedings of the Australian Veterinary Association Annual Conference, Canberra.
  • Macgregor J, Holyoake C, Munks S, Fleming T, Robertson I, Connolly J, Belov K, Lonsdale R, Warren K (2012). Evaluating the use of instream microchip readers to remotely monitor platypus populations. Poster presentation. Australia and New Zealand Council for the Care of Animals in Research and Training Annual Conference, Perth.
  • Paparini A, Macgregor Jw, Lea BJ, Ryan UM, Irwin PJ (2013). Molecular phylogeny of the Piroplasmida: challenges from two potentially novel species found in the platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus). Poster presentation accepted for presentation at The Australian Society for Microbiology Annual Scientific Meeting, Adelaide.
  • Paparini A, Macgregor J, Irwin PJ, Ryan UM. Trypanosomes from native Australian mammals: novel genotypes from the platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus). Poster presentation accepted for presentation at The Australian Society for Microbiology Annual Scientific Meeting, Adelaide.

Collaboration:

Dr Macgregor’s research is being conducted in collaboration with the University of Tasmania, Charles Sturt University, the University of Sydney, the Tasmanian Forest Practices Authority and Diagnostic Veterinary Imaging in Bentley, Western Australia.

UTAS - logo     Forest Practices Authority

Support:

Financial or in-kind support for this project is being provided by Winifred Violet Scott Estate, Caring For Our Country Community Action Grant, Central North Field Naturalists, Holsworth Wildlife Research Endowment, National Geographic Society, Cradle Coast Natural Resource Management, Tasmanian Alkaloids, Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment, Australian Geographic Society, Universities Federation for Animal Welfare, the Forestry Practices Authority, Edward Alexander Weston and Iris Evelyn Fernie Research Fund.

Photos by James Macgregor