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.
For the last few months Annalie, Ellen, Julian, Matt and a team of volunteers have been out working in the Otway Ranges, discovering (or re-discovering!) the long-term monitoring sites established there. These field trips have focused on deploying camera traps and measuring vegetation structure across a range of habitat types from wet forest to heathland.
Annalie has just started her PhD studying how variation in the fire regime (e.g. time since fire and fire severity) affects biodiversity in the Otway Ranges. The information collected from these initial excursions will help build on the long-term monitoring data previously collected by the Fire Ecology and Biodiversity Group. Hopefully this data will allow us to separate the effect of habitat type from the effects of fire diversity.
Ellen also recently began her Masters project, using the same dataset as Annalie to examine how forest flammability and vegetation structure relate to the occurrence of ground-dwelling mammals. She will combine the fauna data gathered from the motion-sensitive cameras with measurements of habitat structure, fuel hazard and new flammability modelling.
Many thanks to the amazing volunteers we’ve had so far. We still have a couple of field trips coming up so please contact Annalie if you’re interested in joining us for one of them!
Since February we’ve welcomed five new students, all of whom have hit the ground running by heading out to the field within weeks (or days) of commencing.
Annalie Dorph and Ellen Rochelmeyer are deploying camera traps and measuring vegetation structure at long-term monitoring sites in the Otway Ranges; Lauren Delaney and Zahlia Payne are studying the responses of ground-dwelling mammals to fire and fragmentation in the heathy woodland of western Victoria. Sarah Mulhall has been working with Lauren and Zahlia with a view to trapping reptiles in SW Victoria and SE South Australia later in the year, when Kelvin Doyle will also be joining the group to conduct a Masters project.
In the first of two bumper news catch-ups, we illustrate the activities of the heathy woodland team, who are working under the umbrella of the Fire & Fragmentation Project.
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.
Our ARC Linkage project officially begins in 2017, and Holly, Julian, Matt and Alan took a road trip this week to scope out the study area. The ultimate aim of the project is to conserve biodiversity in fire-prone fragmented landscapes by addressing two key knowledge gaps: the combined effects of fire and fragmentation on animal movement, and the implications of current and future fire regimes for animal populations.
We'll be embarking on an busy field program from mid February to May and are seeking volunteers to join week-long trips involving:
We're offering three exciting PhD projects within the following two research programs:
Please find further information here. Within the scope of the existing research frameworks, candidates will have the flexibility to develop projects based on their interests and skills.
The projects will run between 2017 and 2020 and are based at the University of Melbourne's Creswick campus. We are committed to supporting PhD students by providing:
Applicants should send a written expression of interest, including CV and statement of results, to Julian by 30 September 2016. Julian can also be contacted with any enquiries.
Nineteen students took our two-week intensive Masters subject "Bushfire and Biodiversity" as part of the Master of Forest Ecosystem Science and Master of Environment.
The course covers the effects of fire on many aspects of biodiversity and ecological processes, and involves a three-day field trip to the Otway Ranges. Students were free to design their own field exercise in groups using a pre-defined canvas - an area near Anglesea burnt by planned fire in autumn 2015. Three groups chose to explore the effects of fire severity on plant species diversity and one group focused on birds.
Despite the intensive fieldwork, we managed to find time in the evening for table tennis and snap tournaments.
Please contact us for more information about what the subject involves.
Many thanks to Julio and Alan for 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