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Article << Previous     |     Next >>   Contents Vol 35(5)

Dispersal and the influence of rainfall on a population of the carnivorous marsupial swamp antechinus (Antechinus minimus maritimus)

Rannveig Magnusdottir A B D, Barbara A. Wilson A C, Pall Hersteinsson B

A School of Ecology and Environment, Deakin University, Geelong, Vic. 3217, Australia.
B Institute of Biology, University of Iceland, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland.
C Present address: Department of Environment and Conservation, Locked Bag 104, Bentley Delivery Centre, WA 6983, Australia.
D Corresponding author. Email: rannveig@hi.is
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Although there is evidence that recent climatic changes have had significant impacts on a wide range of species in the Northern Hemisphere, the influence of climate change, particularly drought, on Australian native small mammal species is poorly understood. In this study we investigated dispersal patterns and the influence of rainfall on the swamp antechinus (Antechinus minimus maritimus). Peak abundance occurred after the highest total annual rainfall for two decades, in 2001. A year later the population had declined to 10% of the peak. Birth dates appeared to occur three weeks earlier following a year of high rainfall. The dispersal of nine litters of pouch young (n = 62) was assessed following two breeding seasons. Young males remained on the natal site until December–January and dispersed before the breeding season. New males entered the population between January and June. More than 50% of females were residents and remained on the site to breed; the remaining females were trapped only once. After the male die-off the movements of pregnant females increased and they appeared to expand their home ranges. A. minimus exhibits philopatry of females and dispersal of males, as observed in other Antechinus species but dispersal occurs 2–3 months after weaning. This contrasts with juveniles of other Antechinus species that disperse abruptly after weaning. This study provides evidence that precipitation does have a major effect on the abundance of dasyurid species, making them vulnerable to drought and local or regional extinctions, particularly in areas of fragmented habitat and drying climates.

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