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

Effects of habitat fragmentation on the demography, movements and social organisation of the eastern pygmy-possum (Cercartetus nanus) in northern New South Wales

R. V. Bladon, C. R. Dickman and I. D. Hume

Wildlife Research 29(1) 105 - 116
Published: 18 April 2002


A population of eastern pygmy-possums (Cercartetus nanus) was studied in northern New South Wales for almost 3 years. A total of 98 pygmy-possums was captured, of which 52 were captured only once. The sex ratio of the population did not differ significantly from parity. Mid-way through the study, 1.4 ha of the 4.0-ha study site was cleared.

Pre-clearing capture rates in nest boxes averaged 33.5 ± 5.8 captures per 100 box checks per month, and the population was estimated by three methods to be at least 15–20 animals. There was no significant difference in body mass between adult males (23.7 ± 6.3 g) and adult females (27.1 ± 7.7 g). Males had significantly larger short-term home ranges (0.35 ± 0.14 ha) than females (0.14 ± 0.06 ha) and tended to move over greater distances each night. Breeding occurred from summer to early winter, and juveniles and sub-adults entered the population in autumn and winter. The mean number of pouch young was 3.9. The most likely minimum size at which juveniles left their mother was 9–11 g. Adult body mass and condition were highly variable over time, and did not appear to be related to either the breeding season or Banksia flowering. Fourteen pygmy-possums were found torpid during the study. Population troughs occurred in late winter and spring and were associated with low survival and/or seasonal migration, possibly linked to the cessation of Banksia flowering in July and the lack of alternative food sources at this time and/or increased use of nest boxes by Antechinus stuartii during late winter. Post-clearing, capture rates fell to 7.8 ± 1.6 captures per 100 box checks per month, the estimated population size fell to 5–8 animals, and there was an almost total lack of juvenile/sub-adult recruitment into the population. The results support concerns that the long-term survival of the eastern pygmy-possum in New South Wales is threatened by continued land clearing throughout much of its present range.


© CSIRO 2002

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