Please come along to Amy's and Saumya's PhD confirmation seminars to hear about their plans to better understand how landscape structure, fire and resource availability influence ground-dwelling mammal population persistence.
Join person or via Zoom.
Where: Small Lecture Theatre, Room 123, Uni Building, Creswick
When: 10.30-11.30 am, Friday 10 May
Both their projects involve measurement of vegetation structure in the beautiful heathy woodland of western Victoria and eastern South Australia. If you'd like to volunteer to help with data collection between July and October, please get in touch!
A multi-faceted team of reptile, mammal and bat-trappers recently headed out west for a week of fieldwork highs, disappointments and everything in between.
In terms of animal numbers, Taylor and Holly's sites were most bountiful, with 35 reptiles falling into pitfall or funnel traps. Microbats appeared in Amanda's harp traps in dribs and drabs until she hit a bumper night of 19 animals, resulting in 25 for the week. A very promising start to the season although microbat ID makes peering at skink scales seem terribly straight forward.
One thousand two hundred and fifty Elliott-trap nights yielded one very special Yellow-footed Antechinus plus two mildly confused Shinglebacks. We are hopeful that Amy, Rachel, Saumya and Julian's mammoth efforts will be rewarded soon, and that the low trap success reflects the time of year. Kelvin experienced similarly low animal numbers this time last year, and Rachel had heath mice coming out of her ears during her pilot study in March.
We're currently seeking volunteers for our programme of almost back-to-back trapping over the next few months. Food, basic accommodation, and transport from Ballarat or Creswick are provided. Please let us know if you're interested, and keep an eye on the facebook page for details of specific trips.
Kate presented her PhD completion seminar last week and is a (possum) whisker away from submitting her thesis. Her research focussed on edges, which are ecologically important environmental features that have been well researched in agricultural and urban landscapes but remain poorly understood in natural systems.
Fire is an agent of edge creation and a globally important driver of biome distribution and community composition, yet little is known about how fire edges affect ecological processes in flammable ecosystems. While edge effects and faunal-fire responses have been well studied independently, how animals respond to fire edges remains poorly understood.
Kate's thesis explores this knowledge gap focusing on the influence of fire edges on fauna, and discusses some methodological advances for ecological field studies. Her study sites were in Victoria's beautiful Central Highlands where she invested enormous energy installing remote cameras, trapping bush rats and agile antechinus, and fitting pesky-but-cute mountain brushtail possums with GPS collars. The possums in particular played very hard to get, but Kate's persistence paid off and she's currently putting the finishing touches on her analyses.
Congratulations Kate on your epic achievement!
Small mammals select resources based on their requirements for food, shelter and protection from predators. Understanding the influence of fire on resource selection can help to guide species conservation and management.
Our new paper investigates the effects of a planned fire on resource selection, abundance, body condition, and movement pathways of a native rodent, the bush rat (Rattus fuscipes). This work formed Amber Fordyce's Honours thesis, and involved gathering data from 60 individuals fitted with spool-and-line tracking devices at Breakfast Creek in the Otway Ranges.
After the fire, rats selected patches of unburnt vegetation, and no rats were caught at a trapping site where most of the understory had been burnt. The fire also reduced bush rat abundance and body condition and caused movement pathways to become more convoluted. After the fire, some individuals moved through burnt areas but the majority of movements occurred within unburnt patches.
Our findings suggest the influence of planned fire on small mammals will depend on the resulting mosaic of burnt and unburnt patches and how well this corresponds to the resource requirements of particular species.
Thanks to Amber, Bronwyn and Julian for the photos. Find the paper here:
Fordyce, A., Hradsky, B.A., Ritchie, E. & Di Stefano, J. (2016). Fire affects microhabitat selection, movement patterns and body condition of an Australian rodent (Rattus fuscipes). Journal of Mammalogy. 97(1): 102-111
Our 2016 fieldwork program has already kicked off with a team of seven visiting the Otways to help Hilman and Natasha measure vegetation structure and trap small mammals.
Hilman is nearing the end of a mammoth effort to deploy camera traps and measure vegetation at 130 long-term monitoring sites spanning foothills forest, forby forest, tall-mixed woodland and heathland. His Masters research examines the influence of time since fire and habitat structure on the functional diversity of ground-dwelling mammals, and will reveal the attributes of prescribed burns that are likely to enhance ecosystem function.
Natasha has recently begun fieldwork for her Masters project which seeks to test species distribution models for mammals in heathland, where several species appear to have become locally extinct or persist in very small numbers. She is using Elliott traps to target small mammals, and plans to create new models of species' current distributions.
Please contact us if you are interested in joining a field trip as a volunteer. Our Otways fieldwork is finishing shortly, but several opportunities are coming up in the Central Highlands.
Many thanks to Matt and Natasha for these photos.
Fire Ecology and Biodiversity at UniMelb
Bushfire Behaviour and Management at UniMelb
Quantitative & Applied Ecology Group at UniMelb
Integrated Forest Ecosystem Research at UniMelb