Australian Mammalogy Australian Mammalogy Society
Journal of the Australian Mammal Society

Age of road-killed common brushtail possums (Trichosurus vulpecula) and common ringtail possums (Pseudocheirus peregrinus) in an urban environment

R. A. Giffney A B , T. Russell A and J. L. Kohen A

A Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University, NSW 2109, Australia.

B Corresponding author. Email:

Australian Mammalogy 31(2) 137-142
Submitted: 28 May 2009  Accepted: 16 October 2009   Published: 16 November 2009


Road-associated mortality has been identified as having major ecological effects on small, fragmented and declining populations. Both the common brushtail possum (Trichosurus vulpecula) and common ringtail possum (Pseudocheirus peregrinus) appear to be in decline in some regions across their natural ranges. Urban populations may be an exception; however, little is known of their population ecology. This study investigates age trends in a subset of road-killed brushtail and ringtail possums collected along eight northern Sydney roads between March 2004 and March 2006. From a total of 591 recorded road-killed possums, 86 were collected for use in this study (36 brushtails, 50 ringtails). Age was estimated using tooth wear patterns on cleaned skulls. Both species showed trends associated with age, and younger possums of both species were more likely to be killed on roads than older animals. Male-biased dispersal of subadult possums is considered a major contributing factor to the over-representation of young brushtail possums in this road-kill sample.

Additional keywords: conservation, marsupial, wildlife management.


Augee M. L. Smith B. Rose S. 1996 Survival of wild and hand-reared ringtail possums (Pseudocheirus peregrinus) in bushland near Sydney. Wildlife Research 23 99 108 doi:10.1071/WR9960099

Clinchy M. Taylor A. C. Zanette L. Y. Krebs C. Jarman P. J. 2004 Body size, age and paternity in common brushtail possums (Trichosurus vulpecula). Molecular Ecology 13 195 202 doi:10.1046/j.1365-294X.2003.02029.x

Clout M. N. Efford M. G. 1984 Sex differences in the dispersal and settlement of brushtail possums (Trichosurus vulpecula). Journal of Animal Ecology 53 737 749 doi:10.2307/4656

Cork S. J. , and Pahl L. (1984). The possible influence of nutritional factors on diet and habitat selection by the ringtail possum (Pseudocheirus peregrinus). In ‘Possums and Gliders’. (Eds A. P. Smith and I. Hume.) pp. 269–276. (Australian Mammal Society: Sydney.)

Coulson G. M. 1982 Road-kills of macropods on a section of highway in central Victoria. Australian Wildlife Research 9 21 26 doi:10.1071/WR9820021

Coulson G. M. 1997 Male bias in road-kills of macropods. Wildlife Research 24 21 25 doi:10.1071/WR96004

Cowan P. E. White A. J. 1989 Evaluation of a tooth-wear age index for brushtail possums, Trichosurus vulpecula. Australian Wildlife Research 16 321 322 doi:10.1071/WR9890321

Dique D. S. Thompson J. Preece H. J. Penfold G. C. de Villiers D. L. Leslie R. S. 2003 Koala mortality on roads in south-east Queensland: the koala speed-zone trial. Wildlife Research 30 419 426 doi:10.1071/WR02029

Efford M. 1998 Demographic consequences of sex-biased dispersal in a population of brushtail possums. Journal of Animal Ecology 67 503 517 doi:10.1046/j.1365-2656.1998.00222.x

Eymann J. Herbert C. A. Cooper D. W. Dubey J. P. 2006 Serologic survey for Toxoplasma gondii and Neospora caninum in the common brushtail possum (Trichosurus vulpecula) from urban Sydney, Australia. The Journal of Parasitology 92 267 272 doi:10.1645/GE-709R.1

Foley W. J. , Lawler I. R. , Moore B. D. , Marsh K. J. , and Wallis I. R. (2004). Diet selection in marsupial folivores of Eucalyptus: the role of plant secondary metabolites. In ‘The Biology of Possums and Gliders’. (Eds R. L. Goldingay and S. M. Jackson.) pp. 207–221. (Surrey Beatty: Sydney.)

Forman R. T. T. Alexander L. E. 1998 Roads and their major ecological effects. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 29 207 231 doi:10.1146/annurev.ecolsys.29.1.207

Goosem M. 2001 Effects of tropical rainforest roads on small mammals: inhibition of crossing movements. Wildlife Research 28 351 364 doi:10.1071/WR99093

How R. A. Hillcox S. J. 2000 Brushtail possum, Trichosurus vulpecula, populations in south-western Australia: demography, diet and conservation status. Wildlife Research 27 81 89 doi:10.1071/WR98064

How R. A. , Barnett J. L. , Bradley A. J. , Humphreys W. F. , and Martin R. (1984). The population biology of Pseudocheirus peregrinus in a Leptospermum laevigatum thicket. In ‘Possums and Gliders’. (Eds A. Smith and I. Hume.) pp. 261–268. (Surrey Beatty: Sydney.)

Johnson C. N. Clinchy M. Taylor A. C. Krebs C. J. Jarman P. J. Payne A. Ritchie E. G. 2001 Adjustment of offspring sex ratios in relation to the availability of resources for philopatric offspring in the common brushtail possum. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series B. Biological Sciences 268 2001 2005 doi:10.1098/rspb.2001.1723

Johnson C. N. Vernes K. Payne A. 2005 Demography in relation to population density in two herbivorous marsupials: testing for source–sink dynamics versus independent regulation of population size. Oecologia 143 70 76 doi:10.1007/s00442-004-1781-2

Jones B. (2004). The possum fauna of Western Australia: decline, persistence and status. In ‘The Biology of Australian Possums and Gliders’. (Eds R. L. Goldingay and S. M. Jackson.) pp. 149–160. (Surrey Beatty: Sydney.)

Kerle J. A. (1984). Variation in the ecology of Trichosurus: its adaptive significance. In ‘Possums and Gliders’. (Eds A. P. Smith and I. D. Hume.) pp. 115–128. (Australian Mammal Society: Sydney.)

Kerle A. (2001). ‘Possums – The Brushtails, Ringtails and Greater Glider.’ (University of New South Wales Press Ltd: Sydney.)

Kerle A. (2004). A cautionary tale: decline of the common brushtail possum Trichosurus vulpecula and common ringtail possum Pseudocheirus peregrinus in the woodlands of the western slopes and plains of New South Wales. In ‘The Biology of Australian Possums and Gliders’. (Eds R. L Goldingay and S. M. Jackson.) pp. 71–84. (Surrey Beatty: Sydney.)

Kerle J. A. Foulkes J. N. Kimber R. G. Papenfus D. 1992 The decline of the brushtail possum Trichosurus vulpecula (Kerr 1798), in arid Australia. The Rangeland Journal 14 107 127 doi:10.1071/RJ9920107

Klöcker U. Croft D. B. Ramp D. 2006 Frequency and causes of kangaroo–vehicle collisions on an Australian outback highway. Wildlife Research 33 5 15 doi:10.1071/WR04066

Lindenmayer D. B. MacGregor C. Welsh A. Donnelly C. F. Brown D. 2008 The use of hollows and dreys by the common ringtail possum (Pseudocheirus peregrinus) in different vegetation types. Australian Journal of Zoology 56 1 11 doi:10.1071/ZO08054

Lodé T. 2000 Effect of a motorway on mortality and isolation of wildlife populations. Ambio 29 163 166

MacLennan D. G. (1984). The feeding behaviour and activity patterns of the brushtail possum, Trichosurus vulpecula, in an open eucalypt woodland in southeast Queensland. In ‘Possums and Gliders’. (Eds A. P. Smith and I. Hume.) pp. 155–161. (Australian Mammal Society: Sydney.)

Mader H. J. 1984 Animal habitat isolation by roads and agricultural fields. Biological Conservation 29 81 96

Marsh K. J. Wallis I. R. Foley W. J. 2003 The effect of inactivating tannins on the intake of Eucalyptus foliage by a specialist Eucalyptus folivore (Pseudocheirus peregrinus) and a generalist herbivore (Trichosurus vulpecula). Australian Journal of Zoology 51 31 42 doi:10.1071/ZO02055

McDonald W. R. St Clair C. C. 2004 The effects of artificial and natural barriers on the movement of small mammals in Banff National Park, Canada. Oikos 105 397 407 doi:10.1111/j.0030-1299.2004.12640.x

Nugent G. , Sweetapple P. , Coleman J. , and Suisted P. (2000). Possum feeding patterns: dietary tactics of a reluctant folivore. In ‘The Brushtail Possum’. (Ed. T. L. Montague.) pp. 10–19. (Manaaki Whenua Press: Lincoln, New Zealand.)

Pahl L. (1984). Diet preference, diet composition and population density of the ringtail possum (Pseudocheirus peregrinus cooki) in several plant communities in southern Victoria. In ‘Possums and Gliders’. (Eds A. P. Smith and I. Hume.) pp. 253–260. (Australian Mammal Society: Sydney.)

Pahl L. I. 1987 Survival, age determination and population age structure of the common ringtail possum, Pseudocheirus peregrinus, in a Eucalyptus woodland and a Leptospermum thicket in southern Victoria. Australian Journal of Zoology 35 625 639 doi:10.1071/ZO9870625

Pahl L. I. Lee A. K. 1988 Reproductive traits of two populations of the common ringtail possum, Pseudocheirus peregrinus, in Victoria. Australian Journal of Zoology 36 83 97 doi:10.1071/ZO9880083

Paull D. , and Kerle A. (2004). Recent decline of common brushtail and common ringtail possums in the Pilliga forests, New South Wales? In ‘The Biology of Australian Possums and Gliders’. (Eds R. L. Goldingay and S. M. Jackson.) pp. 85–90. (Surrey Beatty: Sydney.)

Ramp D. Wilson V. K. Croft D. B. 2006 Assessing the impact of roads in peri-urban reserves: road-based fatalities and road usage by wildlife in the Royal National Park, New South Wales, Australia. Biological Conservation 129 348 359 doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2005.11.002

Russell B. G. Smith B. Augee M. L. 2003 Changes to a population of common ringtail possums (Pseudocheirus peregrinus) after bushfire. Wildlife Research 30 389 396 doi:10.1071/WR01047

Smith B. Augee M. Rose S. 2003 Radio-tracking studies of common ringtail possums, Pseudocheirus peregrinus, in Manly Dam Reserve, Sydney. Proceedings of the Linnean Society of New South Wales 124 183 194

Statham M. Statham H. L. 1997 Movements and habits of brushtail possums (Trichosurus vulpecula Kerr) in an urban area. Wildlife Research 24 715 726

Stow A. J. Minarovic N. Eyman J. Cooper D. W. Webley L. S. 2006 Genetic structure infers generally high philopatry and male-biased dispersal of brushtail possums (Trichosurus vulpecula) in urban Australia. Wildlife Research 33 409 415 doi:10.1071/WR06019

Taylor B. D. Goldingay R. L. 2004 Wildlife road-kills on three major roads in north-eastern New South Wales. Wildlife Research 31 83 91 doi:10.1071/WR01110

Taylor P. D. Fahrig L. Henein K. Merriam G. 1993 Connectivity is a vital element of landscape structure. Oikos 68 571 573 doi:10.2307/3544927

Thomson J. A. Owen W. H. 1964 A field study of the Australian ringtail possum Pseudocheirus peregrinus (Marsupialia: Phalangeridae). Ecological Monographs 34 27 52 doi:10.2307/1948462

Trombulak S. C. Frissell C. A. 2000 Review of ecological effects of roads on terrestrial and aquatic communities. Conservation Biology 14 18 30 doi:10.1046/j.1523-1739.2000.99084.x

Van der Ree R. , Ward S. J. , and Handasyde K. A. (2004). Distribution and conservation status of possums and gliders in Victoria. In ‘The Biology of Australian Possums and Gliders’. (Eds R. L.Goldingay and S. M. Jackson.) pp. 91–110. (Surrey Beatty: Sydney.)

Winter J. W. 1980 Tooth wear as an age index in a population of the brushtail possum, Trichosurus vulpecula (Kerr). Australian Wildlife Research 7 359 363 doi:10.1071/WR9800359

Woinarski J. C. Z. (2004). In a land with few possums, even the common are rare: ecology, conservation and management of possums in the Northern Territory. In ‘The Biology of Australian Possums and Gliders’. (Eds R. L. Goldingay and S. M. Jackson.) pp. 51–62. (Surrey Beatty: Sydney.)

Export Citation Cited By (5)