Glider project encourages Etheridge teens to sciences

Gulf Savannah NRM is backing a project to encourage Etheridge Shire teenagers to pursue careers in the STEM fields – science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Participants will do field work alongside James Cook University scientists on nocturnal fauna surveys, looking for the Greater Glider (Petauroides minor), the largest of Australia’s gliding possums. CEO Zoe Williams said the project will immerse high school students in real-world science within their own locality.

“That’s a really rare experience for people in Etheridge Shire,” Zoe said. “It’s a great opportunity for our young people to get real experience and to consider the full range of careers available in the sciences. This project showcases some of the exciting scientific work happening in our region. It will encourage students who’ve left the region for boarding school to return after graduation, bringing their skills and knowledge back to contribute to a thriving regional culture and economy.”

Zoe said the project will also increase the scientific knowledge of how Greater gliders may have found a refuge from climate change in the Gulf region. Queensland has listed them as vulnerable, with bushfires, land clearing and climate change the biggest dangers. They live in a variety of eucalyptus dominated forests, but the gliders are thought to have found refuge in the high country of Blackbraes National Park, a unique and largely unknown protected habitat area in the Einasleigh Uplands of northern Queensland.

Some years back, an “exceptionally high abundance” of Greater gliders was observed and recorded there. This led scientists to speculate that Greater gliders may be in abundance at Blackbraes due to its relatively high elevation of more than 850 metres. Scientists believe the wetter and generally cooler climate may become a climate refuge for local savannah species from increasingly frequent extreme weather conditions due to climate change.

The project will send Etheridge Shire high school students on a four-day field trip into the area with highly experienced researchers from James Cook University, doing nightly surveys to look for the gliders and assess their numbers. Zoe Williams said the project will help strengthen Gulf communities.

“Gulf Savannah NRM strives to create a sustainable future for the region, working with community, industry and the environment. Increasing STEM skills in the Gulf is vital. This will help local students find their way to STEM careers and become our local scientists and technologists of the future.”

About Greater gliders

  • can glide up to 100 metres in one go and turn at 90-degree angles in mid-flight
  • steer using their long tails and altering the curvature of their gliding membranes
  • tail can be twice the length of the body
  • adult can be 30 to 45 centimetres long, with the tail another 45 to 60 centimetres
  • adults keep nests in many tree trunks all at once, gliding between them by using their gliding membrane like a parachute
  • they also use their membrane as a blanket, wrapping it around them to keep warm
  • gliders are vulnerable to bushfires, land clearing and climate change

Photo: Denise McGregor James Cook University

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