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High-tech nest

By Country News

A team from Charles Sturt University is taking steps to protect wildlife from extreme heat, designing high-tech 3D-printed nesting boxes that perform better under extreme conditions.

With heatwaves becoming the new normal, researchers said native animals were struggling to find places to live and those that relied on hollow branches as cool, safe places to raise a family, were running out of options as big trees became more rare.

‘‘Natural hollows in trees are critical for animals worldwide — they use them for nesting, resting and food,’’ CSU Honours student Mick Callan said.

‘‘However, land clearing has caused widespread habitat loss as large trees and tree hollows have disappeared.

‘‘In Australia, tree hollows provide important habitat for over 15 per cent of vertebrate fauna as well as various insects and other invertebrates.

‘‘Hollows take at least 80 years to form, so populations of many animals now increasingly rely on nest boxes and other artificial structures placed in trees by well-meaning people.

‘‘However, the effectiveness of wooden nest boxes — as even a short-term solution to replace tree hollows — is being questioned. This is due to short lifespan, high variation in microclimate, limited understanding of animal requirements, poor design, and need for ongoing maintenance of these boxes,’’ Mr Callan said.

The CSU team, a collaboration between the Institute for Land, Water and Society (ILWS) and CSU Engineering, will use detailed knowledge of target native species such as red-rumped parrots and striated pardalotes — a tiny native bird — to develop, field test and manufacture different 3D-printed plastic tree hollows for use in Australian conditions.

Team leader and a leading ecologist Professor David Watson anticipates the new plastic hollows will have thermal properties, longevity and internal dimensions comparable to natural tree hollows, and provide more suitable homes for native animals.

‘‘This project responds to the challenge of climate change, developing innovative ways to make homes for wildlife that can handle climatic extremes, from summer heatwaves to winter cold snaps,’’ Prof Watson said.