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
Sarah has recently finished the fieldwork component of her Masters project in the Otway Ranges.
She has been measuring the three-dimensional structure of vegetation at the long-term monitoring sites and collecting fuel hazard information. The next step is to explore how the flammability of different forest types changes over time using these data.
Thanks to all of the amazing volunteers (around 25 of them!) who have helped out in the field over the last eight months.
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.
The results of our new paper, available as an Ecological Applications Preprint, suggest that use of patchy fire to break up large expanses of mature vegetation may enhance ecosystem function.
We studied the responses of bird functional diversity to TSF and two direct measures of environmental variation. Six bird functional traits (body mass, clutch size, food type, foraging behaviour, foraging location and nest form) were used to calculate functional diversity.
Functional richness was negatively related to TSF, suggesting that recent prescribed fire creates patchy vegetation and provides greater opportunities for species to partition resources. Buff-rumped Thornbill and Superb Fairy-wren were among the seven species more common in young vegetation than old, and all seven species build dome-shaped nests. This nest type offers better camouflage and shelter against predation than more open nests, but we lack a definitive explanation as to why dome-shaped nest-builders prefer younger vegetation.
We suggest that controlled use of patchy prescribed fire to break up large expanses of mature vegetation is likely to help sustain functional diversity.
Fire Ecology and Biodiversity at UniMelb
Bushfire Behaviour and Management at UniMelb
Quantitative & Applied Ecology Group at UniMelb
Integrated Forest Ecosystem Research at UniMelb