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

Floristic and structural components of habitat use by the eastern pygmy-possum (Cercartetus nanus) in burnt and unburnt habitats

Ayesha I. Tulloch A and Chris R. Dickman A B
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Institute of Wildlife Research, School of Biological Sciences, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia.

B Corresponding author. Email: cdickman@bio.usyd.edu.au

Wildlife Research 33(8) 627-637 https://doi.org/10.1071/WR06057
Submitted: 28 May 2006  Accepted: 20 October 2006   Published: 19 December 2006

Abstract

The eastern pygmy-possum (Cercartetus nanus) occurs broadly but patchily in south-eastern Australia. It is a small, difficult-to-trap marsupial with poorly known resource and habitat preferences. This study investigated the structural and floristic habitat resources used and selected by C. nanus in Royal National Park (which was heavily burnt by bushfire in 1994) and Heathcote National Park (most of which had remained unburnt for over two decades at the time of study), in central-coastal New South Wales. Three different sampling methods were used – pitfall traps, Elliott traps and hair tubes – with pitfall trapping being by far the most effective method for detecting C. nanus. Live-trapping in different habitats revealed higher numbers of C. nanus in unburnt and burnt woodland, burnt heathland and burnt coastal complex than in unburnt coastal complex and burnt and unburnt rainforest. To identify the components of habitat contributing to this pattern, we first scored floristic and structural features of vegetation around trap stations and then quantified habitat components further by using spool- and radio-tracking. We found little evidence that C. nanus responded to any structural components of habitat, although arboreal activity was greater, not surprisingly, in wooded than in burnt heathland habitats. C. nanus was associated most strongly with the abundance of certain plants in the Proteaceae and Myrtaceae. In particular, the species prefers Banksia spp. (probably for food) and Eucalyptus and Xanthorrhoea spp. (probably for shelter).


Acknowledgments

This project was supported by Australian Geographic, the Institute of Wildlife Research and the University of Sydney. Research was carried out with permission from the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, now NSW Department of Environment and Conservation (Licence Nos A2966 and S10398), and the University of Sydney Animal Ethics Committee (Approval no. L04/7-2000/1/3172). Thanks go to all who assisted with field work, especially Melinda Louden, Jacquie Herbert, Mikhaila Tulloch, Viv Tulloch and Idelies Govett. We are grateful to the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC, formerly NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service) for their permission to conduct field work at Royal and Heathcote National Parks and for their assistance throughout the project. At DEC we thank Debbie Andrew in particular for all her support and advice, David Keith and Mark Tozer for the use of their vegetation data, and all the rangers and field officers of Royal National Park for their assistance, particularly Jacqueline Sedgewicke and Tony Dowd. Thanks also to Forests NSW for the use of their hair tubes. Mathew Crowther, Ian Hume, Glenda Wardle and two anonymous referees provided useful comments on earlier drafts of the manuscript.


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