Protecting the Precious Malleefowl: How LIDAR is Revolutionising Monitoring Techniques

May 1, 2024
5 min read

Introduction to the Malleefowl and its Habitat

The Malleefowl, also known as the Gnow, Lowan and the Mallee Hen, and in the central desert of Australia, by the aboriginal name Nganamara, is a ground-dwelling bird native to Australia. These birds are only found in NT, WA, NSW, VIC and SA. In NSW and VIC, they are classed as endangered, NT as critically endangered and WA as Rare - likely to become extinct. They are a unique and fascinating species who play an important role in its ecosystem.

Malleefowl are endemic to the arid regions of Southern Australia, particularly in mallee scrublands. These areas are characterised by low-growing eucalyptus trees and shrubs, which provide perfect conditions for the bird's nesting habits. They prefer sandy or loamy soils for digging their large mound nests. Malleefowl require habitat that has been unburnt for 40-60years. Habitats of this time-since-fire have sufficient leaf litter on the ground for Malleefowl to use to build their incubation mounds

Nesting Habits

One of the most fascinating aspects of the Malleefowl's behaviour is its unique way of nesting.  Unlike other birds that build nests above ground level, Malleefowls create large mounds on the forest floor using sticks, leaves, and soil. These mounds can reach up to 5 meters in diameter and 1-2 meters in height. The heat generated by decomposing organic matter within these mounds serves as an incubator for their eggs. They are found near farming and mining areas.

Conservation Concerns

Despite having evolved successful strategies for survival in harsh environments, Malleefowls are facing multiple threats due to human activities such as land clearing, overgrazing by livestock and feral rabbits, introduced predators like foxes and feral cats, wildfires, and climate change.

How do we protect the Malleefowl?

In the past, a Malleefowl search was done by 'human chaining', where people walked in lines through thick bush looking for mounds – a needle in a haystack.

Anditi has been engaged to search for mounds prior to ground clearing using their accelerated land information system engine (ALISE) for wide area Malleefowl mound detection, habitat analysis, terrain analysis and detection of animal burrows, both historic and present.

Anditi’s LIDAR technology has revolutionised the way we gather data in remote and challenging environments, allowing us to cover vast areas with precision and efficiency. By flying LIDAR over tens of square kilometers to thousands of square kilometers, researchers can obtain detailed information that would be impossible to collect on foot. One of the key advantages of LIDAR is its ability to penetrate vegetation, making it possible to detect hidden features such as partially obscured mounds. ALISE's specialised Malleefowl algorithm takes this capability a step further by analysing the data and providing precise locations of these mounds in a spreadsheet and shapefile format. This invaluable information allows field officers to conduct targeted fieldwork, guiding them directly to specific sites using GPS coordinates. With this level of accuracy, researchers can determine not only the age of the mounds but also whether they are currently being used by their elusive inhabitants. The combination of LIDAR technology and advanced algorithms is truly pushing the boundaries of environmental research in even the most challenging landscapes.

Share this post