Habitat loss and degradation have contributed significantly to the decline of many species worldwide. To address this loss, we first require a comprehensive understanding of habitat requirements and resource-use patterns of the species under threat.
In our new paper, we aimed to quantify variation in the habitat of a the threatened brush-tailed phascogale (Phascogale tapoatafa tapoatafa), by measuring several physical characteristics of trees and ground cover. We surveyed phascogales in Central Victoria over a 13-year period from 2000 to 2012, and measured habitat variables characterising tree communities, ground cover and coarse woody debris.
The highest overall animal abundance was at sites characterised by red stringybark, red box, grey box and broad-leaved and narrow-leaved peppermints. At these sites, red stringybark and grey box trees were of small diameter and tended to have small hollows.
Our study has provided new information concerning spatial patterns of phascogale abundance and resource use within a forested area that has been subjected to multiple disturbances. Currently, the composition and age structure of tree communities and ground habitats are a response to severe disturbance due to past mining and harvesting activities.
Successful conservation of this threatened species could be enhanced through active management of this forest to maintain the ongoing supply of nesting hollows and foraging resources.
Mansfield, C., Arnold, A., Bell, T.L. & York, A. (in press). Habitat characteristics and resource use of a threatened arboreal marsupial in a degraded landscape: the brush-tailed phascogale (Phascogale tapoatafa tapoatafa) in central Victoria, Australia. Wildlife Research. DOI
Kate and a team of volunteers have recently returned from several weeks of field work out in the forests of the Central Highlands, where they have been attempting to catch Mountain Brushtail Possums (Bobucks) as part of Kate’s PhD research.
This study aims to understand how fire affects resource use and movement patterns of the possums at sites burnt during the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires. Kate is particularly keen to understand if this species alters its movement patterns and energy use between areas of differing burn severities.
For this project Kate has built her own GPS collars, which contain: a VHF for relocating the possums, a GPS to record horizontal movement patterns, an altimeter to measure changes in height, as well as a three-axis accelerometer to measure energy use. This device will enable us to look at resource selection and movement patterns in three-dimensions, across a range of different burn severities.
If you’d like to volunteer to come along on an upcoming field trip with Kate, please get in touch with her by email.
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
Kate's project aims to (a) understand the importance of fire edges in influencing ecological patterns and processes in flammable landscapes, and (b) quantify the temporal and spatial influence of fire edges on fauna.
Please contact Kate for more information on her research, and find her abstract below.
One of Manuela's GPS-collared swamp wallabies returned to a Phillip Island trapping site to wish her well. This plucky female has crossed the 100-kph Rhyll-Newhaven Road six times in four days.
Manuela is studying how wallabies use space and move between different vegetation patches in human-modified and heterogeneous landscapes. She's also interested in human-wildlife interactions.
Superb lyrebirds (Menura novaehollandiae) are famous for mimicking the calls of other species, as well as chainsaws, car alarms and camera shutters.
Kate has recently discovered they also have a proclivity for attacking the cameras she’s using to study how fire edges influence animal distribution, abundance and movement in the Central Highlands.
She’s put together a video depicting a feisty encounter between a camera and a particularly determined individual.
The video contains prolonged scenes of strong violence and coarse language.
Watch at your peril.
Fire Ecology and Biodiversity at UniMelb
Bushfire Behaviour and Management at UniMelb
Quantitative & Applied Ecology Group at UniMelb
Integrated Forest Ecosystem Research at UniMelb