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Article << Previous     |     Next >>   Contents Vol 28(5)

Population dynamics of three species of dasyurid marsupials in arid central Australia: a 10-year study

Christopher R. Dickman, Adele S. Haythornthwaite, Gayle H. McNaught, Paul S. Mahon, Bobby Tamayo and Mike Letnic

Wildlife Research 28(5) 493 - 506
Published: 30 November 2001


This study investigated the population dynamics of three species of dasyurid marsupials in sand ridge habitat of the Simpson Desert, western Queensland, over a 10-year period between March 1990 and December 1999. The lesser hairy-footed dunnart (Sminthopsis youngsoni), was captured most consistently over the period of study, followed by the wongai ningaui (Ningaui ridei), and the mulgara (Dasycercus cristicauda). Rates of recapture were low (4.5–22.2%), probably because individuals of each species are very mobile. All species bred in late winter or early spring when animals were aged at least 8–10 months, and independent juveniles first appeared usually in summer. S. youngsoni reared a second litter in late spring or early summer in 3 of the 10 years studied, when the availability of food was likely to have been high; neither N. ridei nor D. cristicauda were known to attempt a second litter within a season.

To explore factors that might influence population dynamics, we compared capture rates of each species with measures of rainfall, temperature, vegetation cover, abundance of predators [feral cats (Felis catus), red foxes (Vulpes vulpes), and goannas (Varanus spp.)], dragons, other dasyurids and indices of food abundance. The abundance of S. youngsoni appeared to depend primarily on the cover of spinifex 7–9 months earlier, that of D. cristicauda was related most strongly to rainfall 7–9 months earlier, while that of N. ridei was related to minimum temperature lagged by 1–3 months.

While the dynamics of other arid-zone mammals are driven demonstrably by interactions between rainfall, resource availability and predation, our findings suggest that dasyurids have limited flexibility in their life histories and are influenced more subtly and by factors such as facilitation that are just beginning to become apparent.

Full text doi:10.1071/WR00023

© CSIRO 2001

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