Citizen scientists recruited to EchidnaCSI

Echidna drinking water

Echidnas are one of Australia’s most iconic mammals, but although the prickly critters have made their homes in hundreds of different habitats across the country, some populations are sadly in decline.

While the wide spread of echidna populations is fantastic for nature lovers, it makes studying the cryptic creatures extremely challenging – there simply aren’t enough scientists to keep track of them all!

This is where citizen scientists come to the rescue. Through a program called the Echidna Conservation Science Initiative (EchidnaCSI), which is overseen by Dr Tahlia Perry from the School of Biological Sciences at University of Adelaide, volunteers from across Australia can use the free EchidnaCSI smartphone app to submit photos and information about echidna sightings.

“Since the project began in 2017, more than 11,000 members of the public have downloaded the EchidnaCSI app and submitted 12,000 echidna sightings,” says Dr Perry.

Professor Frank Grutzner from the University of Adelaide’s School of Biological Sciences says the citizen science approach was critical for collecting this volume of data.

“By taking this approach we have been able to recruit thousands of members of the general public to collect data over large geographic and time scales.”

Dr Perry also says that a surprising number of echidna sightings have been submitted from urban areas.

“Although we expected most sightings to occur close to populated areas, we did not anticipate as many echidna sightings within or immediately surrounding all major cities in Australia,” said Dr Perry.

“This raises a number of concerns as there is very little appropriate habitat or food sources available for echidnas in these environments. It also increases the risk of echidnas being struck by vehicles.”

EchidnaCSI has also pioneered a method for incorporating wildlife scat collecting into a national citizen science project. More than 400 echidna scat samples have been collected so far and will soon undergo molecular analysis.

What’s next?

This extensive collection of biological samples from around Australia opens exciting avenues for learning more about wild echidna diets, gut health, reproductive success, and potential stressors.

World-leading ecologist Dr Peggy Rismiller from Kangaroo Island’s Pelican Lagoon Research and Wildlife Centre helped to establish EchidnaCSI and says that this information will go a long way, but there’s more work to do.

“It is a matter of urgency that we obtain more information to determine the conservation status of echidnas across Australia, particularly with the ongoing loss of habitat, feral predation and increased vehicle movements.,” said Dr Rismiller.

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