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

The importance of grasstrees (Xanthorrhoea preissii) as habitat for mardo (Antechinus flavipes leucogaster) during post-fire recovery

Marnie L. Swinburn A B , Patricia A. Fleming C F , Michael D. Craig A , Andrew H. Grigg D , Mark J. Garkaklis A B , Richard J. Hobbs E and Giles E. St.J. Hardy A
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A School of Biological Sciences and Biotechnology, Murdoch University, Murdoch, WA 6150, Australia.

B Department of Environment and Conservation, Swan Region, PO Box 1167, Bentley Delivery Centre, Bentley, WA 6983, Australia.

C School of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences, Murdoch University, Murdoch, WA 6150, Australia.

D Alcoa World Alumina Australia, Pinjarra, WA 6208, Australia.

E School of Environmental Science, Murdoch University, Murdoch, WA 6150, Australia.

F Corresponding author. Email: T.Fleming@murdoch.edu.au

Wildlife Research 34(8) 640-651 https://doi.org/10.1071/WR07035
Submitted: 20 March 2007  Accepted: 1 November 2007   Published: 18 December 2007

Abstract

Grasstrees (Xanthorrhoea) are an important structural component of many Australian ecosystems and also an important resource for many fauna species. Grasstrees have distinctive morphologies, with a crown of long thin leaves and skirts, the latter of which are accumulated dead leaves; both are incinerated by fire. This study determined the morphological features of Xanthorrhoea preissii, which change in response to fire from 6 months to 21 years post-burn. In addition, using radio-telemetry and spool-tracking, we determined that grasstrees are utilised as foraging and nesting resources for mardos (Antechinus flavipes leucogaster (Gray, 1841), Marsupialia: Dasyuridae). Recently burnt grasstrees (6 months post-burn) appeared not to be used by mardos at all. We found few mardos in these recently burnt sites, and the one individual we managed to track for 126 m utilised only a single grasstree: a 2-m-tall multiple-crowned grasstree that had escaped the fire was used as a nest site. For sites 5 years post-burn, mardos selectively utilised grasstrees with larger crown areas and those with a greater number of crowns compared with a random sample of available trees. At the 14-year post-burn sites, mardos still demonstrated some selection for grasstrees, although no specific single feature could be determined as most significant. We recorded humidity and temperature buffering effects in association with post-burn accumulation of grasstree skirt material and found that even dead grasstree ‘logs’ were an important resource for nests. We conclude that mardos utilise both live and dead grasstrees for foraging and nest sites, possibly owing to the availability of dense cover, a buffered microclimate, and potentially also food resources. Fire-management policies that promote habitat heterogeneity and retain several intact-skirted grasstrees within the landscape are likely to benefit mardos.


Acknowledgements

Our thanks to Ian (Sam) Freeman (DEC) and Dacre Allen (Alcoa) for their assistance in site access, Stefan de Haan (DEC) for providing information on the fire history of study sites, Melanie Norman for field and office assistance, Christine Davis, Angela Mercier, Nicole Moore for assistance in the field, come rain or shine, Rod Armistead for useful discussions and field assistance, Ron Wooller, Trudy Paap, Marie Murphy and Damien Cancilla for the provision of field equipment and Naomi Kerp (Alcoa) for help with minesite safety analyses. This project was funded by Murdoch University, Alcoa World Alumina Australia and the Australian Research Council (Linkage Grant No. LP0455309). Animal trapping was approved by the Murdoch University Animal Ethics Committee (approval no. W1103/04) and conducted in accordance with the Department of Environment and Conservation’s licence to take fauna (licence no. SF004890).


References

Anderson, T. J. C. , Berry, A. J. , Amos, J. N. , and Cook, J. M. (1988). Spool-and-line tracking of the New Guinea spiny bandicoot, Echymipera kalubu (Marsupialia, Peramelidae). Journal of Mammalogy 69, 114–120.
CrossRef |

Beard J. S. (2004). ‘GIS Layer: Pre-European Vegetation – Western Australia (National Vegetation Information System compliant version).’ (Department of Agriculture: Perth.)

Bedford, D. J. (1992). Australian grasstrees. Australian Natural History 24, 42–50.


Boonstra, R. , and Craine, I. T. M. (1986). Natal nest location and small mammal tracking with a spool and line technique. Canadian Journal of Zoology 64, 1034–1036.


Borsboom A. C. (2005). Xanthorrhoea: A review of current knowledge with a focus on X. johnsonii and X. latifolia, two Queensland protected plants-in-trade. (Environmental Protection Agency: Queensland.)

Braithwaite, R. W. (1979). Social dominance and habitat utilization in Antechinus stuartii (Marsupialia). Australian Journal of Zoology 27, 517–528.
CrossRef |

Brooker, M. G. , and Rowley, I. (1991). Impact of wildfire on the nesting behaviour of birds in heathland. Wildlife Research 18, 249–263.
CrossRef |

Carati C. (1981). Ecological strategies of A. flavipes leucogaster (Waterhouse 1838) in the jarrah forest (Eucalyptus marginata) of Western Australia. B.Sc.(Honours) Thesis, Murdoch University.

Christensen P. E., and Kimber P. C. (1975). Effect of prescribed burning on the flora and fauna of south-west Australian forests. In ‘Managing Terrestrial Ecosystems’. (Eds J. Kikkawa, and H. A. Nix.) pp. 85–106. (Proceedings of the Ecological Society of Australia: Canberra.)

Cockburn, A. , and Lazeby-Cohen, K. A. (1992). Use of nest trees by Antechinus stuartii, a semelparous lekking marsupial. Journal of Zoology 226, 657–680.


Cottam, G. , and Curtis, J. T. (1956). The use of distance measures in phytosociological sampling. Ecology 37, 451–460.
CrossRef |

Curtis, N. P. (1998). A post-fire ecological study of Xanthorrhoea australis following prescribed burning in the Warby Range State Park, north-eastern Victoria, Australia. Australian Journal of Botany 46, 253–272.
CrossRef |

Day, R. W. , and Quinn, G. P. (1989). Comparisons of treatments after an analysis of variance in ecology. Ecological Monographs 59, 433–463.
CrossRef |

Dickman, C. R. (1980). Ecological studies of Antechinus stuartii and Antechinus flavipes (Marsupialia: Dasyuridae) in open-forest and woodland habitats. Australian Zoologist 20, 433–446.


Dickman C. R. (1991). Use of trees by ground-dwelling mammals: implications for management. In ‘Conservation of Australia’s Forest Fauna’. (Ed. D. Lunney.) pp. 125–136. (The Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales: Sydney.)

Frazer, D. S. , and Petit, S. (2007). Use of Xanthorrhoea semiplana (grass-trees) for refuge by Rattus fuscipes (southern bush rat). Wildlife Research 34, 379–386.
CrossRef |

Frey, H. (1991). Energetic significance of torpor and other energy-conserving mechanisms in free-living Sminthopsis crassicaudata (Marsupialia: Dasyuridae). Australian Journal of Zoology 39, 689–708.
CrossRef |

Geiser F. (2003). Thermal biology and energetics of carnivorous marsupials. In ‘Predators with Pouches: the Biology of Carnivorous Marsupials’. (Eds M. E. Jones, C. R. Dickman and M. Archer.) pp. 238–253. (CSIRO Publishing: Melbourne.)

Hindmarsh R., and Majer J. D. (1977). Food requirements of mardo (Antechinus flavipes (Waterhouse)) and the effect of fire on mardo abundance. Forests Department of Western Australia, 31.

Keiper, P. , and Johnson, C. N. (2004). Diet and habitat preferences of the Cape York short-nosed bandicoot (Isoodon obesulus peninsulae) in north-east Queensland. Wildlife Research 31, 259–265.
CrossRef |

Key, G. E. , and Woods, R. D. (1996). Spool-and-line studies on the behavioural ecology of rats (Rattus spp.) in the Galapagos Islands. Canadian Journal of Zoology 74, 733–737.


Knight, E. H. , and Fox, B. J. (2000). Does habitat structure mediate the effects of forest fragmentation and human-induced disturbances on the abundance of Antechinus stuartii? Australian Journal of Zoology 48, 577–595.
CrossRef |

Koch, J. M. , Richardson, J. , and Lamont, B. B. (2004). Grazing by kangaroos limits the establishment of the grass trees Xanthorrhoea gracilis and X. preissii in restored bauxite mines in eucalypt forest of southwestern Australia. Restoration Ecology 12, 297–305.
CrossRef |

Korczynskyj D. (2002). Phenology and growth of the grasstree Xanthorrhoea preissii in relation to fire and season. Ph.D. Thesis, Curtin University of Technology, Perth.

Laidlaw, W. S. , and Wilson, B. A. (2006). Habitat utilisation by small mammals in a coastal heathland exhibiting symptoms of Phytophthora cinnamomi infestation. Wildlife Research 33, 639–649.
CrossRef |

Laidlaw, W. S. , Hutchings, R. W. , and Newell, G. R. (1996). Home range and movement patterns of Sminthopsis leucopus (Marsupialia: Dasyuridae) in coastal dry heathland, Anglesea, Victoria. Australian Mammalogy 19, 1–9.


Lamont, B. B. , and Downes, S. (1979). The longevity, flowering and fire history of the grasstrees, Xanthorrhoea preissii and Kingia australis. Journal of Applied Ecology 16, 893–899.
CrossRef |

Lamont B. B., Ward D. J., Eldridge J., Korczynskyj D., Coangelo W. I., Fordham C., Clements E., and Wittkuhn R. (2003). Believing the Balga: a new method for gauging the fire history of vegetation using grasstrees. In ‘Fire in Ecosystems of South-west Western Australia: Impacts and Management’. (Eds I. Abbott and N. Burrows.) pp. 147–169. (Backhuys Publishers: Leiden.)

Lamont, B. B. , Wittkuhn, R. , and Korczynskyj, D. (2004). Ecology and ecophysiology of grasstrees. Australian Journal of Botany 52, 561–582.
CrossRef |

Majer J. D. (1978). Further notes on the food requirements of the mardo (Antechinus flavipes (Waterhouse)). Forests Department of Western Australia.

Marchesan, D. , and Carthew, S. M. (2004). Autecology of the yellow-footed antechinus (Antechinus flavipes) in a fragmented landscape in southern Australia. Wildlife Research 31, 273–282.
CrossRef |

Mattiske , Havel  (1998). Vegetation mapping in the south west of Western Australia. Prepared for Environment Australia and the Department of Conservation and Land Management. Mattiske Consulting Pty Ltd and Havel Land Consultants.

Morcombe, M. K. (1967). The rediscovery after 83 years of the dibbler Antechinus apicalis (Marsupialia, Dasyuridae). Western Australian Naturalist 10, 103–111.


Newell, G. R. , and Wilson, B. A. (1993). The relationship between cinnamon fungus (Phytophthora cinnamomi) and the abundance of Antechinus stuartii (Dasyuridae: Marsupialia) in the Brisbane Ranges, Victoria. Wildlife Research 20, 251–259.
CrossRef |

Nichols, O. G. , and Nichols, F. M. (2003). Long-term trends in faunal recolonization after bauxite mining in the jarrah forest of southwestern Australia. Restoration Ecology 11, 261–272.
CrossRef |

Sawle M. (1979). Habitat components of Antechinus flavipes in the karri forest southwest of Western Australia. B.Sc.(Honours) Thesis, Murdoch University, Perth.

Schmidt, W. , and Mason, M. (1973). Fire and fauna in the northern jarrah forest of Western Australia. Western Australian Naturalist 12, 162–164.


Smith, A. P. , and Murray, M. (2003). Habitat requirements of the squirrel glider (Petaurus norfolcensis) and associated possums and gliders on the New South Wales central coast. Wildlife Research 30, 291–301.
CrossRef |

Soderquist, T. R. (1993). Maternal strategies of Phascogale tapoatafa (Marsupialia: Dasyuridae). II. Juvenile thermoregulation and maternal attendance. Australian Journal of Zoology 41, 567–576.
CrossRef |

Spencer, R.-J. , Cavanough, V. C. , Baxter, G. S. , and Kennedy, M. S. (2005). Adult free zones in small mammal populations: response of Australian native rodents to reduced cover. Austral Ecology 30, 868–876.
CrossRef |

Stapp, P. (1997). Habitat selection by an insectivorous rodent: patterns and mechansims across multiple scales. Journal of Mammalogy 78, 1128–1143.
CrossRef |

StatSoft-Inc. (2002). ‘STATISTICA Version 6.0.’ (StatSoft-Inc.: Tulsa, OK.)

Stokes, V. L. , Pech, R. P. , Banks, P. B. , and Arthur, A. D. (2004). Foraging behaviour and habitat use by Antechinus flavipes and Sminthopsis murina (Marsupialia: Dasyuridae) in response to predation risk in eucalypt woodland. Biological Conservation 117, 331–342.
CrossRef |

Tasker, E. M. , and Dickman, C. R. (2002). A review of Elliott trapping methods for small mammals in Australia. Australian Mammalogy 23, 77–87.


Taylor, J. E. , Monamy, V. , and Fox, B. J. (1998). Flowering of Xanthorrhoea fulva: the effect of fire and clipping. Australian Journal of Botany 46, 241–251.
CrossRef |

Thompson, M. B. , Medlin, G. , Hutchinson, R. , and West, N. (1989). Short-term effects of fuel reduction burning on populations of small terrestrial mammals. Australian Wildlife Research 16, 117–129.
CrossRef |

Traill B. J. (1991). Chapter 11: Box–ironbark forests: tree hollows, wildlife and management. In ‘Conservation of Australia’s Forest Fauna’. (Ed. D. Lunney.) pp. 119–123. (The Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales: Sydney.)

Tulloch, A. I. , and Dickman, C. R. (2006). Floristic and structural components of habitat use by the eastern pygmy-possum (Cercartetus nanus) in burnt and unburnt habitats. Wildlife Research 33, 627–637.
CrossRef |

Wardell-Johnson, G. (1986). Use of nest boxes by mardo, Antechinus flavipes leucogaster, in regenerating karri forest in south western Australia. Australian Wildlife Research 13, 407–417.
CrossRef |

Western Australian Herbarium (2007). Xanthorrhoea preissii Endl. In ‘FloraBase – The Western Australian Flora’. Western Australian Herbarium & Department of Environment and Conservation. http://florabase.calm.wa.gov.au/

Whelan, R. J. , Langedyk, W. , and Pashby, A. S. (1980). The effects of wildfire on arthropod populations in jarrah–banksia woodland. Western Australian Naturalist 14, 214–220.


Whittell, M. H. M. (1954). John Gilbert’s notebook on marsupials. Western Australian Naturalist 5, 104–114.


Zar J. H. (1999). ‘Biostatistical Analysis.’ (Prentice-Hall, Inc.: Upper Saddle River, NJ.)



Rent Article (via Deepdyve) Export Citation Cited By (5)