Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Biodiversity in a Pellet

The South Australian Museum is tracking the biodiversity of our outback wildlife species in a curious manner – by studying regurgitated food pellets from owls.

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A dedicated team of experts and volunteers has been working on the project for many years and has identified new species to help the South Australian Government design better conservation programs. By analysing the indigestible material in the pellets, the team has provided a clearer picture of which rodents, marsupials, birds, reptiles, frogs and arthropods live where, and how they fit into the food chain of the ecosystem.

For small mammals, the skull or skull fragments with teeth are the telltale items for identification. The team has even been able to study the impact of drought on species populations, without actually collecting live animals.

Sifting through animal remains in regurgitated pellets may not sound glamorous, but it's something our Subfossils Honorary Research Associate and the project leader, Graham Medlin, is incredibly passionate about. He heads the dedicated team which gathers every week to pull apart the regurgitated material to find creatures' remains and articulate their skeletons.

The regurgitated pellets contain the bones, fur, feathers, scales and insect exoskeletons from the owl species, which cannot be broken down by the its digestive system. Many small animals are eaten whole, so the entire skeleton is often regurgitated in each pellet. Larger prey species, such as rats, are decapitated and dismembered. Ten to twelve hours...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

South Australian Museum