Map a feather in vollies’ cap

VOLUNTEERS at the Cockburn Wetlands Centre are helping create Australia’s first “feather map” by collecting waterbird feathers around Bibra Lake.

Wetlands can attract a spectacular range of ibis, spoonbills, egrets, herons and cormorants, but where they come from is often a mystery.

Research by the Australian Nuclear Science Technology Association (ANSTO) and the University of NSW found each wetland has a unique elemental and isotopic signature, so scientists can tell where a bird was born by using nuclear physics to analyse their feathers.

• Citizen scientist Simon Stott searching for bird feathers in Bibra Lake.

• Citizen scientist Simon Stott searching for bird feathers in Bibra Lake.

ANSTO put out a call for volunteers around the country to become ‘citizen scientists’; collecting feathers from their local wetlands and sending them in to the lab.

Denise Crosbie from the wetlands centre was quick to sign up, and has organised teams of volunteers to don watertight overalls and wade through the Beeliar wetlands.

The mapping will also help understand the health of wetland areas, which can be used to advise policy-makers.

by TRILOKESH CHANMUGAM

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