The brush-tailed phascogale, a possum-like ‘marsupial mouse’ which belongs to the same family as quolls and Tasmanian devils, has been declining in numbers due to predation by cats and foxes, as well as the clearing of their preferred habitat of older trees.
Anwyn Chapman, sustainability coordinator at Kyneton SC, has been leading the program through a government initiative called ResourceSmart, which encourages sustainability in schools across Victoria.
The students have been working together with William Terry, environmental programs and engagement officer at Macedon Ranges Shire Council, who spoke to students about the significance of the study and introduced them to different kinds of traps used to catch insects, which make up the phascogale’s diet.
“[He] came out and talked to the students about the importance of doing this study and the sorts of different ways we could go out and test it. So what he did was introduce the kids to five different designs for insect traps and talked about their pros and their cons,” Chapman explains.
The students settled on two trap designs, a pitfall trap for crawling insects and a bottle trap for flying ones, from the five presented, and took part in building and setting the traps, and collecting their findings. The results, while unexpected, are part of the learning process.
“We were hoping to get a lot more insects than we have,” explains Chapman.
“So now I have to sit down with the kids and talk to them about how science isn’t always black and white, or really straightforward answers.
You’ve got to take what you’ve got, and use it to ask the next sort of questions that you’re going to go away and investigate.”
Chapman hopes to see this program continue in the future, with yearly ‘tweaks’, either expanding upon data from previous years or conducting new investigations.
“I know that Macedon Ranges Council have just applied for a grant to look at one of the glider species that are quite vulnerable… we might decide to run with a project that’s more related to the glider rather than the phascogale.”