The wombat holds precious clues for an ecologist investigating the effects of climate change on the Australian alps.

Story By Margrit Beemster

Ecologist Alison Matthews always knew wombats could move quickly, but since she started tracking them for climate research, even she has been surprised at how elusive these seemingly awkward creatures can be. Perhaps that’s because these wombats are mountain-bred, are healthy, hardy and, according to Alison, very smart.
“They are a surprisingly challenging species to trap,” she says. As a PhD student working with Charles Sturt University’s Institute for Land, Water and Society, Alison has been trapping and collaring common wombats at Perisher Valley in Kosciuszko National Park, NSW, for the past 18 months. By watching the wombats’ movements, she hopes to learn how climate change will affect grazing animals in the region. “The alpine ecosystem is pretty fragile and if climate warming causes the snow to recede, we might see some of these grazing animals moving up the mountain, which could impact on alpine flora,” Alison says.
So far, Alison and her team of environmental officers and local volunteers have captured five wombats using a combination of netting and cage traps at the entrance of the animals’ burrows. Each animal has been fitted with a reflective ear tag, so it can be identified at night, and a collar that allows Alison to track its movements by GPS and radio.

This story excerpt is from Issue #61

Outback Magazine: Oct/Nov 2008