Wildlife Research Wildlife Research Society
Ecology, management and conservation in natural and modified habitats

Home range and den characteristics of the brush-tailed rabbit-rat (Conilurus penicillatus) in the monsoonal tropics of the Northern Territory, Australia

Ronald S. C. Firth A D , John C. Z. Woinarski B and Richard A. Noske C
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A School of Science and Primary Industries, Charles Darwin University, and CRC for Tropical Savannas Management, Darwin, NT 0909, Australia.

B Biodiversity Conservation, Department of Natural Resources, Environment and the Arts, PO Box 496, Palmerston, NT 0831, Australia.

C School of Science and Primary Industries, Charles Darwin University, Darwin, NT 0909, Australia.

D Corresponding author. Email: ronald.firth@cdu.edu.au

Wildlife Research 33(5) 397-407 https://doi.org/10.1071/WR05057
Submitted: 22 June 2005  Accepted: 19 June 2006   Published: 14 August 2006


Radio-telemetry was used to investigate the home range and den characteristics of the brush-tailed rabbit-rat (Conilurus penicillatus) from three sites in the monsoonal tropics of the Northern Territory, Australia. Radio-tracking was conducted in a series of discontinuous 4–17-day sessions, over a 2-year period. The home ranges of 61 C. penicillatus were estimated using the minimum convex polygon (MCP) and fixed kernel (K95% and K50%) methods. There were no significant differences in home-range size among the three sites or between wet and dry seasons, which suggests that vegetation structure, floristics and season play relatively little role in movements of C. penicillatus. The mean home-range size was 0.79 ± 0.09 ha (MCP estimate) to 0.97 ± 0.12 ha (K95% estimate). The home ranges of males were larger than those of females (mean MCP estimates of 1.07 ± 0.15 and 0.45 ± 0.06 ha respectively). C. penicillatus denned primarily in fallen logs and in hollows of eucalypts and bloodwoods (Corymbia spp.). Rough-barked trees appeared to be preferred. The diameter at breast height (DBH) of den trees varied significantly between the three sites, being greatest at site C1 (34.5 ± 2.4 cm) and least at site C2 (26.1 ± 1.0 cm). Den trees had larger DBH than randomly selected trees at each site. The diameter at the mid-point (DMP) of both den and randomly selected logs were not significantly different between sites. Many individuals used more than one den site per tracking session. The small home ranges of C. penicillatus and its reliance on hollows in trees and logs suggest that this species is very vulnerable to local extinction following long-term annual and destructive fire regimes and land clearing, even in comparatively small patches.


We thank the Board of Management and Rangers of Garig Gunak Barlu National Park and the Board of Management of Kakadu National Park. We also thank James Smith for helping prepare some of the figures, the many volunteers who have helped with fieldwork, in particular Vera Borgwardt and Australian Geographic for sponsorship. We also thank the anonymous referee and Camilla Myers for comments that helped improved the manuscript.


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Appendix 1.  Home-range estimates and radio-tracking effort for C. penicillatus at three sites in the Northern Territory
Site C1 and C2, Cobourg; Site K3, Kakadu. The following symbols (+, *, $, #) indicate an animal that was tracked on more than one occasion
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