Skinks. Australia is crawling with them, figuratively and literally. At last count we had 339 species. 339 species! And yet the richness of species is only half the story. Australia has a skink for every occasion. Giant skinks and miniature skinks. Skinks that live half of their lives in the alpine deep freeze, and others that toil through the harshest desert heat. Skinks that scale trees in a blistering flash, and others that have lost all but the last vestige of their limbs. Skinks whose days are spent cavorting in tight-knit family units, and others who are murderously territorial. Skinks saturated with colour, and skinks whose camouflage is near impregnable. Skinks whose range extends over hundreds of square kilometers, and others that persist nowhere else but a speck of granite in the Southern Ocean. You would be hard pressed to find a more diverse radiation than the Australian Scincidae…
Category Archives: Conservation photos
Conservation photos VII. Weird and wonderful
Evolution crafts some wacky creatures. Birds that can’t fly. Squirrels that can. Mammals that lay eggs. Worms that luminesce. Vampire bats. Goblin fish. Octopus. I must admit that I have a considerable soft spot for these ecological and evolutionary oddities. They are just so fascinating; so mind-bogglingly weird. So indulge me as a list a few more. A few that I’ve had the great joy of seeing in the flesh, and whom I dearly hope to see again. Frogs whose finely textured and brilliantly patterned skin has inspired Aboriginal art for millennia. Dragons that spend their days munching hundreds of tiny, acrid ants, and whose skin not only wards off predators with a litany of devilish thorns, but also pumps water directly to their mouth by capillary action. Miniaturised snakes whose diet is restricted entirely to lizard eggs (that rarest of commodities) and others whose tail so perfectly mimics a grub – in both form and function – that it brings dinner right to their door. Lizards who swim through sand, having long ago cast aside the limbs that hinder their progress. And snakes whose morphology just takes your breath away. Whose beauty you can barely fathom, and whose existence re-affirms why you took up the cause in the first place….
Conservation Photos Part VI: Mountain Herps
Australia is not renowned for its mountains. Our medal tally at the last Winter Olympics will tell you that. And yet we have a mountain range that challenges the grandest the world has to offer. Not in height, no. But for scale, diversity and sheer spectacle? You have to give me that. The range I’m talking about is of course the Great Dividing Range – a conglomerate of mountains that stretches 3500 km along Australia’s eastern seaboard. Like most Australians, I’ve only nibbled at the edges of the Great Divide. But what a rewarding taste it has been. I’ve rambled through environments ranging from alpine meadows to sub-tropical rainforests, and had the pleasure of crossing paths with herps ranging from the tiniest of skinks, to dragons, elapids, frogs and pythons…
Conservation Photos Part V: Landscapes II
Because, well, why not?
Conservation Photos Part IV: Landscapes
If I had to sum up my research in one word it would be autecology. I’m fascinated by the stories of individual species. Their life-histories, their patterns of activity and dispersal, their diets, their habitat requirements. In short, the axes that influence the survival of individuals and populations. But it’s just my particular window on ecosystem function. It’s a form of abstraction. Like all applied ecologists, I’m ultimately concerned with the persistence of entire ecosystems. So how does an autecologist indulge their passion for ecosystems directly? Through landscape photography, of course!
Conservation Photos Part III: Melbourne’s Volcanic Plains
I couldn’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent wandering Melbourne’s volcanic plains. I grew up a just stones throw from them, on the sedimentary hills east of the Plenty River. Perhaps it is sacrilegious to say, but the volcanic plains were far more interesting for a boy obsessed with herpetology. Whereas the Red Box woodlands east of the river offered fleeting glimpses of the odd Garden Skink, the volcanic plains west of the river offered Little Whip Snakes, Brownsnakes, Tussock Skinks, Pobblebonks, Bluetongue Lizards, Cunningham Skinks, Copperheads, Tiger Snakes, Small-eyed Snakes. The choice was easy….
Conservation photos, part II: Big Desert
I’m a big fan of the Big Desert. It’s a subtle place. Like a grassland, you have to get up close and personal with it to discover its treasures. It has no towering trees, no roaring waterfalls, no charismatic megafauna. It is miles and miles of rolling sand dunes and Mallee heath. After a fire, it is white sand and black sticks, little else. And yet the Big Desert is a biodiversity wonderland. Ants, scorpions, centipedes, bees, wasps, butterflies, moths, cicadas. The insects hum day and night. As do the reptiles that chase them, and each other…
Conservation photos, part I: Carpet Pythons
This morning, Twitter informed of a recent post on the Early Career Ecologists blog (which you can find here) about the value of photography for ecological research. It’s a great post, and it got me thinking about the plethora of pics I’ve taken over the years during research projects. Some have specific purposes, others are simply to document the process or the beautiful creatures and landscapes I’ve had the fortune to study. It got me thinking: “I should be doing more with this pictorial resource!”.
So here goes folks, the first of a series of blogs sharing these pics with you. Where better to start than with a research project on the endangered (and magnificent!) Inland Carpet Python in Victoria, which I was lucky enough to take part in during 2001…..