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Ecology, management and conservation in natural and modified habitats
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Diet of the quokka (Setonix brachyurus) (Macropodidae : Marsupialia) in the northern jarrah forest of Western Australia

M. W. Hayward
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Science, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia, and Wildlife Research Centre, Department of Conservation and Land Management, PO Box 51, Wanneroo, WA 6946, Australia. Current address: Terrestrial Ecology Research Unit, Department of Zoology, University of Port Elizabeth, PO Box 1600, Port Elizabeth, 6000, Eastern Cape Province, South Africa. Email: hayers111@aol.com

Wildlife Research 32(1) 15-22 https://doi.org/10.1071/WR03051
Submitted: 24 June 2003  Accepted: 16 July 2004   Published: 25 February 2005

Abstract

The diet of the quokka in the northern jarrah forest of Western Australia was investigated by microscopic examination of faecal pellets of known individuals and comparison with a reference collection of plant epidermal tissue. Twenty-nine plant species were identified from the 97 faecal pellet groups collected from 53 individuals, confirming that the quokka is a browsing herbivore that favours leaves and stems. Of those 29 species, 11 made up over 90% of the diet and five species accounted for 71%. Thomasia species were the most common in the diet and the most preferred; Dampiera hederacea was also preferred and these species, along with Bossiaea aquifolia, Mirbelia dilatata and Agonis linearifolia, were the five most important food items. The seasonal variation in the diet of the quokka, and that between sites, can be attributed to increases in nutrient content associated with fresh growth associated with season or vegetation seral stage after fire. The reduced dietary diversity at sites with younger seral stages (<10 years after fire) and the importance of certain species that are more common in these younger ages explains the cause of the species’ habitat preference for sites with a mosaic of young and old (>25 years after fire) age classes. The relatively short availability of sufficient, high-quality, succulent plants in the seral succession of swamps occupied by quokkas is likely to drive a regular pattern of local extinction and recolonisation.


Acknowledgments

Innumerable thanks go to Paul de Tores for his supervision, sound advice and friendship while in Western Australia. Thanks also go to Mick Dillon and Richie Fairman for plant identification and to Team Foxglove for assistance and friendship. Liz Jefferys helped enormously with microscopic diet analysis, while Jenny Taylor and Karen Ross kept me sane during three months of microscopy. This paper has been improved by the reviews of Barry Fox, Peter Banks and two anonymous reviewers. This project was conducted under WA Department of Conservation and Land Management Animal Experimentation Ethics Committee approval CAEC 1/97 and subsequent renewals, and animals were trapped under licence SF002928.


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