PhD study, SW Victoria Brolga population

Inka Veltheim studied the movements, habitat use and population ecology of the threatened Brolga population in south west Victoria, with Federation University (Ballarat, Victoria) and Quantitative and Applied Ecology Group, Melbourne University. She was awarded her PhD in May 2019, entitled ‘Movements, behaviour and ecology of the brolga, Antigone rubicunda, at multiple spatial and temporal scales’. The key findings of her research will inform environmental management decisions in Victoria and internationally, especially for new infrastructure in the expanding wind energy industry.

Inka's latest paper on the home range and movements of pre-fledged Brolga chicks found they mostly moved within 2km of 1-3 separate wetlands, so future habitat management for southern Brolga breeding should incorporate 3 wetlands and movement corridors. Inka has also participated in work on the genetics of the southern Brolga population, and in northern Australia, on the breeding success of Brolgas and Sarus Cranes in the Gulf of Carpentaria. She is a member of the Crane Specialist Group» and hopes to continue working with cranes and wetland conservation in the future.

Key issues

Brolgas and wind farm

Brolga and wind towers, SW Victoria (Ed Dunens)

The Brolga population in south west Victoria, Australia has suffered historical declines presumably due to habitat loss and degradation, and fox predation. Survey results from 2010 are available at SWIFFT, with the highest count in 2013 recording 907 Brolgas, including first and second year birds. In the study area, wind farm development has dramatically increased in districts with important Brolga breeding and flocking wetlands, leading to fears that turbine impact or other effects could further threaten the population. The Brolga is an iconic species for residents in the region, and wind industry expansion has caused considerable community concern.

This is the first systematic study of wind farm potential population impacts on any crane species, and its findings will have international significance. A technical achievement of the research was to develop a new method specifically for safe catching and treatment (attaching bands or transmitters, measuring etc) of Brolgas. Scientists had never captured Brolgas in the wild before and US crane expert Dr Felipe Chavez-Ramirez was brought to Australia by the Victorian Department of Sustainability, to advise on capture and handling.

Study background

Inka led the South West Victoria Brolga Study field work from 2009, attaching transmitters to 12 chicks, 5 adults and 6 immatures (total 23). A number of chicks were also colour-banded. Inka's work on Brolga life history parameters, habitats and movements will be used by an independent scientific panel to validate and refine the PVA (population viaibilty analysis) developed for this population by Melbourne University, which will be invaluable for government, the wind industry and landholders managing Brolga habitats.

The study was funded by the Commonwealth Department of Environment, Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE), Sustainability Victoria, Bird Observation and Conservation Australia (BOCA), Clean Energy Council, Origin Energy, Meridian Energy Wind Macarthur, Union Fenosa Wind Australia, Pacific Hydro, Biosis Research, Wind Prospect, TasHydro and a postgraduate scholarship to IV from Federation University Australia and DSE. Additional funding was provided by Holsworth Wildlife Research Endowment and Birds Australia Victoria research grant. The ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions provided additional support.

Young BrolgaMeasuring Brolga

L: Attaching transmitter to a young Brolga chick. R: Inka Veltheim and Dr Chavez-Ramirez measure a Brolga

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Thesis and papers


Veltheim, Inka, Felipe Chavez-Ramirez, Richard Hill, and Simon Cook. (2015). ‘Assessing Capture and Tagging Methods for Brolgas, Antigone rubicunda (Gruidae)’. Wildlife Research 42, no. 5: 373-81 DOI: 10.1071/WR14238

Veltheim, Inka, Simon Cook, Grant Palmer, Richard Hill, and Michael McCarthy (2019). ‘Breeding Home Range Movements of Pre-Fledged Brolga Chicks, Antigone rubicunda (Gruidae) in Victoria, Australia – Implications for Wind Farm Planning and Conservation’. Global Ecology and Conservation (e00703).

Miller, Adam D, Inka Veltheim, Timothy Nevard, Han Ming Gan, and Martin Haase (2019). ‘Microsatellite Loci and the Complete Mitochondrial DNA Sequence Characterised through Next-Generation Sequencing and de Novo Genome Assembly, and a Preliminary Assessment of Population Genetic Structure for the Australian Crane, Antigone rubicunda’. Avian Biology Research 12, no. 2: 49-58. DOI:10.1177.1758155919832142

K. S. Gopi Sundar, John D. A. Grant, Inka Veltheim, Swati Kittur, Kate Brandis, Michael A. McCarthy and Elinor C. Scambler (2019) ‘Sympatric cranes in northern Australia: abundance, breeding success, habitat preference and diet’, Emu - Austral Ornithology, 119:1, 79-89, DOI: 10.1080/01584197.2018.1537673

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Articles and links

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