Several Pajero Club members along with other 4WD Victoria clubs volunteered to escort scientists and researchers into the Alpine National Park. Member, Frank Amato drove ABC reporter Cameron Wilson up to Davies Plain as part of a convoy, this is what he published and had to say… listen to the audio podcast at the end of this post.

By Cameron Wilson, published Tuesday 3 December 2013 – abc.net.au

In a wild corner of north-east Victoria, more than 80 researchers have just spent two weeks counting and documenting rarely seen alpine wildlife. The remoteness of the region means there is limited knowledge of the area—an issue Museum Victoria and Parks Victoria are now attempting to rectify.

Head of science at Melbourne Museum Dr Mark Norman said the current alpine environment could be broken down into three categories—the good, the bad, and the ‘hanging on’. ‘There’s good news. We’re delighted we found alpine tree frogs because that’s one species vulnerable to a deadly fungus which has been attacking the frogs,’ Dr Norman said.

‘We’ve got a “hanging on” category where we’ve found just one or two [animals] which are there, but have challenges.’ ‘And there are some less cheery stories where we’re looking for native fish species… which were there ten years ago but are now all gone.’

During the two-week bioscan, 21 species of reptiles were found, including the endangered Kosciusko Water Skink, Glossy Skink and the Mountain Skink. In a portable laboratory set up next to the Buchan River, Katie Smith, vertebrate collection manager at Museum Victoria, dissected a Blackrock Skink to be added to the museum’s collection.

‘The museum is sort of a biological library where we have specimens from throughout their distribution and throughout time, and it allows people to study them for a range of questions,’ she said. ‘But this area is so remote we don’t have many records of the reptiles or frogs.’

Roger Fenwick, the regional manager for Parks Victoria, was instrumental in organising the bioscan and worked to bring researchers, park rangers and locals together for the project. ‘No one group knows everything and it’s great to share the knowledge and get better results as land managers,’ said Mr Fenwick.

‘We invited four wheel drivers to be involved and this means the scientists can get on with doing their work, the Parks staff can concentrate on managing the program, and the four wheel drivers can get everyone around nice and safe.’

Museum Victoria’s senior curator of entomology, Dr Ken Walker documented 400 nests of native bees during the study. ‘What you find is a pile of dirt which looks like a chimney which goes down about 30 centimetres underground,’ he said. Within these hives, Dr Walker discovered a symbiotic relationship that has developed between the native alpine bees and a species of mite. ‘The bee makes what we call a pollen pudding—it gathers pollen and it makes a little cell… this is 30 centimetres underground, so it’s very moist and you’ve got a moist pollen ball, so mould and fungus will grow,’ said Dr Walker.

‘To combat that, the bee brushes a few mites off its back, into the cell that it’s making, and as the mould and fungus grows, the mites eat the fungus and mould, so it keeps the pollen ball nice and fresh for the larvae of the bee.’ Also at the bioscan was a member of the local indigenous community, Katherine Mullet, who was representing the Gunnai/Kurnai and Monero communities who used to occupy this area.

Ms Mullet was looking for cultural sites, including traditional walking routes, many of which are now 4WD and bushwalking tracks. Senior curator of mammals at Museum Victoria, Dr Kevin Rowe, placed hundreds of traps for small animals at Davies Plain each night of the study. Two listed species were found, the Broad Tooth Rat and the Smokey Mouse.

There were also two species of Antechinus (a small marsupial mouse indigenous to Australia) found, but at this time of year the population consisted only of females. ‘All the males died two months ago when they went into a mating frenzy and bred until they died,’ explained Dr Rowe.

One of the most important areas of the Australian Alps is the Sphagnum Bogs, which store moisture and regulate river flows throughout the year. Dr Norman described them as a ‘giant wettex’ laid over the landscape. ‘The moisture trapped underneath is what all the animals burrow in when it gets hot in summer,’ Dr Norman said. The bogs support communities of the Alpine Spiny Crayfish, Broad Tooth Rats and Bush Rats.

However, Dr Norman explained that climate change is a major threat to alpine wildlife species, which are already living at the edge of their environment. ‘The challenge worldwide with changing climate is if you are at the top of your limit or as far south as you can go, there’s nowhere else to go,’ said Dr Norman.