After the devastating bushfires of 2019-20 burned close to a third of all greater glider habitat, there were grave concerns over the species’ future. Already under extinction pressure from habitat destruction and climate change, this nocturnal folivore (leaf eater), who had only recently been federally uplisted to Endangered, now faces an increasing threat post-fire: a shortage of tree hollows, crucial to their survival. Tree hollows essential to greater glider survival can take more than 100 years to form.
WWF-Australia, in collaboration with Greening Australia and the Australian National University (ANU), came together to devise a plan. They would install hi-tech, climate-considerate nest boxes in Tallaganda State Forest and National Park, NSW and East Gippsland, Victoria, in the hope that the hollow-dwelling marsupial might move in. The nest boxes can provide an alternative shelter that mimics the tree hollows that gliders prefer to nest in while their habitat regenerates.
Thermally appropriate and long-lasting, these nest boxes were only installed in April 2022, but already there are signs that some have tenants.
We caught up with Dr Kita Ashman, a Threatened Species & Climate Adaptation Ecologist at WWF-Australia, to learn more.
Is it true the nest boxes are already in use by greater gliders?
Recently, I was out at Tallaganda State Forest, climbing a tree to install a sensor camera so we could monitor the activity of animals that had been coming and going from the nest boxes. The nest boxes had only been up for ten weeks, so I was going up, thinking, ‘Great, I’ll pop this camera in, then come back down’, and as I was climbing up, I saw this little head poke out. A greater glider had already moved into the nest box.
How did you feel seeing greater gliders using the nest boxes you helped install?
It was one of the most special moments to see that little head poking out of the nest box. I honestly just burst into tears. I was so excited to see that they'd already moved in.
We were hoping they would move in, but I never even dreamed it would be that quick.
⬇️ Watch the moment Dr Kita Ashman spots the greater glider in the nest box! ⬇️
Sounds like it’s working well. Why is it important to protect greater gliders?
When I saw that greater glider in the nest box, it was almost bang on a week after they'd been uplisted to Endangered. So, coming out into these forests, seeing greater gliders, that was really in the forefront of my mind. I'm working with this incredible species, and they're just sliding towards extinction at a more rapid rate than probably any of our arboreal mammals.
I feel like we'd done everything we could with our partners to design these amazing nest boxes, putting them in the forest where they would hopefully be used. We got everything to a point. The rest was up to the gliders, and you can't control them.
What does it mean for this to have happened so quickly?
Having greater gliders in the nest boxes so soon after they've gone up is incredible. I’m very hopeful that we’ll have even more gliders moving into these boxes in the near future.
On multiple occasions, we saw two or even three gliders snuggled up inside a nest box. We don't know too much about whether or not they’re a family group, if it's maybe mum and dad and baby in there, but these nest boxes and camera data will allow us to untangle some of those mysteries. They’ll help us learn more about greater gliders and allow us to see things we haven't even had an opportunity to look into before. Things like, what kind of familial relationships they have and whether or not they're forming these little colonies. It’s very exciting.
How will you go about doing that?
The next step for the project will be monitoring the uptake of the nest boxes and over time, figuring out if they’re able to create a population-scale impact in this part of the forest where greater gliders have been impacted by fires. We've installed cameras on a subset of our sites, so that'll give us a pretty good idea of who’s coming and going from these nest boxes. Hopefully, lots of greater gliders!
Then we’ll need to maintain those cameras for the next year. So, over the coming months and years, working with our partners at the Australian National University, we’ll get a better picture of what percentage of the nest boxes are being used by gliders. At the moment, it's looking pretty high for the boxes that we have monitored, but it just means that we know, yep, these boxes are working in terms of getting gliders in them.
Hopefully, with this data, we’ll be able to actually shift the dial on greater glider conservation in these areas in terms of the number of gliders living in the landscapes after the fires.
Is there anything people reading this can do to help?
Like a lot of our projects, we really rely on donations to be able to implement them. So, if you’re in a position to support us through donations, that’s always very helpful. Without that support, we simply can’t do the work we do.
The greater glider Next Generation Nest Box project is a part of Regenerate Australia, WWF-Australia’s ambitious plan to rehabilitate, repopulate and restore our wildlife after the bushfires of 2019-20. We want to help build Australia’s resilience against the impacts of climate change. Every dollar you donate helps us do that.
What more can you do to help greater gliders?