A team of researchers from the Charles Darwin University (CDU) will lead a project of assessing the ecosystem, after a boom of predator population has taken place across Northern Australia in the past half-century.
The scientists are now set to look at the ecological impact on estuarine crocodile numbers.
Saltwater crocodiles were declared a protected species in 1971. Since then, the number is fairly well-known – the estimate has gone from 3,000 in the 1970s to over 100,000 crocodiles in the Northern Territory today.
That being said, ecologist Keller Kopf from the CDU’s Research Institute for the Environment and Livelihoods said there has been little formal investigation in the effect of that key conservation decision.
“We are really trying to understand what the ecological role of crocodiles is in waterways up here,” Dr Kopf said. “Surprisingly, for such a large enigmatic animal where we have been doing research on the population numbers for years, we know very little about how they directly influence the environments they are in.” He added.
The ecological study involves estimating the number of food types of prey needed to support river-based, estuarine crocodile populations in the NT. This would be a joint effort by the CDU, Darwin’s Larrakia Rangers and government researchers.
The primary goal was to help inform future policy decisions on saltwater crocodile management and assess how much longer the environment could sustain their population growth. Similar studies have been made in the populations of the wolf in North America and sharks on coral reefs. Some of these researches cited that a larger predatory population is not bad at all.
It was said that unexpected benefits are garnered from having a large predator population. But it is yet to study if that is the case here.
Given the decades when hunting for skins, meat and skulls have been legalized; numerous species of animals have been eradicated. Hence, the crocodile populations in the Northern Territory were depleted.
Since the protection was declared, fatal and not-fatal crocodile attacks have fueled continuous debate about the management of the animals. This worried cattle station owners and Roger Matthews, a commercial crocodile catcher.
With the increase of crocodile numbers and his 30 years in the industry, he cited that they are found in places where he hasn’t seen them before. Adding to the threat is the upcoming wet season where they could have the opportunity to move around places generally.
Given that, the CDE study will take place over three years, and many are starting to worry that the community casualties may occur prior to the conclusion of the said study.