Students Experience Different Australian Ecosystems

Posted: March 23, 2012

During the last two weeks, students at The SFS Center for Rainforest Studies got an impression of the Australian outback and had a hands-on experience in research on invasive species.

About 150km west from the Center is the small township Chillagoe with its air of the Australian outback. Not only outback birds and large kangaroos welcomed the students, but also strange looking landforms. Chillagoe is located just along the edge of the ancient Australian continent and students were able to see the vastness of the Australian dry woodlands that stretches west from Chillagoe.

When looking east they saw a karst landscape, full of limestone caves that originated from an old reef that grew along the shores of this ancient continent. Although set back in time by the landscape, students learned that rainforest exists in the dry outback around Chillagoe, hidden in protected and moist gullies and near caves. They also got familiar with past and present human activities in this area which was and is connected with mining and the various impacts this industry has on the environment.

Back at the Center students enjoyed the much cooler climate compared to the hot and humid outback of Chillagoe. For 3 and 1/2 days students were then doing research on the invasive cane toad of Australia. Toads had to be collected from different sites at night and then dissected the next day. Data collection and dissection had to be organized by the entire class and this was a challenge!

Every student had a task allocated so that the success of the data collection depended on every member of the group. The final product was a large data sheet from which every student could draw data for her or his specific scientific question on cane toad ecology and physiology.

Now students have to write a mock scientific paper on their question using the collectively obtained data. And there are many questions about cane toads! What do they eat? What impact do lung nematodes have on food consumption or the development of fat bodies in cane toads? Do cane toads eat more in the Wet season? Students are using their own data to answer some of these questions and compare the results with those from other studies. Another step further in the preparation of the students for the upcoming Directed Research Projects.