Stephanie Clark, Citizen Science Officer
Citizen scientists from all over Sydney have been collecting data on the charismatic Eastern Water Dragon with ROARING success! Water Dragons are an impressive semi-aquatic lizard found near fresh water and patches of bushland along the eastern coast of Australia. Full of character, and found at sizes up to a metre long, they are a much loved native species and perfect candidate to study the effect of urbanisation on native species. The ‘Dragons of Sydney’ project aimed to inspire, educate and increase community involvement in the conservation of Eastern Water Dragons.
Almost 1,000 people completed our Backyard Dragon survey which aimed to uncover what features of private outdoor spaces are correlated with the presence (or absence) or water dragons. Preliminary data shows that cats have a negative impact on water dragons, while water features provide important habitat for water dragons in people’s backyards.
Three-hundred volunteers from school and community groups assisted with twenty-nine ecological surveys of Dragons, investigating the effects that urbanisation and human activity have on water dragon populations and behaviour. We observed that Water Dragons generally basked in the sun to soak up energy. When people walked near dragons, they often reacted by escaping to safety in a more sheltered and shady site (retreat site). We hypothesised that their retreat sites would be cooler and shadier than the basking sites. So far, the data shows that human foot traffic has no impact on the dragons and they are not put at thermal disadvantage.
However James Baxter-Gilbert, a PhD candidate at Macquarie University, who we collaborated with on the Dragons of Sydney project, found that urbanisation had an effect on dragons resulting in the urban evolution of dragons. He found that urban living dragons are differently shaped, bolder, more prone to fighting, and have a lower endurance capacity, and the altered boldness and body shape seem to be genetically linked.
The ‘Dragons of Sydney’ project was managed by the National Parks Association of NSW with assistance from the New South Wales Government through its Environment Trust Lead Environment Community Group Grant (2016-18).’