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

Differences in brushtail possum home-range characteristics among sites of varying habitat and population density

Belinda I. Whyte A B , James G. Ross A and Helen M. Blackie A
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Centre for Wildlife Management and Conservation, Lincoln University, Lincoln 7647, New Zealand.

B Corresponding author. Email: belindawhyte@gmail.com

Wildlife Research 40(7) 537-544 https://doi.org/10.1071/WR13063
Submitted: 4 April 2013  Accepted: 1 November 2013   Published: 28 November 2013

Abstract

Context: In New Zealand, the Australian brushtail possum is a pest, because this species preys on native birds and transmits bovine tuberculosis (bTB) to livestock. Previous studies on possums have shown that home-range characteristics differ depending on habitat and/or population density. However, direct comparisons between studies are limited because of the use of differing monitoring techniques, some of which are now out-dated and imprecise. Understanding how possum ranging behaviour varies in response to habitat and density may allow the development of more effective and site-specific control operations. For example, variations in home-range characteristics (e.g. home-range overlap with conspecifics) among populations may mean that bTB transmission risk is not uniform among populations, resulting in the need for some sites to be prioritised for control over others.

Aims: To investigate whether home-range characteristics varied among three sites of differing habitat and population density, and investigate whether possum home-range characteristics varied between males and females.

Methods: Global Positioning System (GPS)- and VHF-tracking were used to compare possum home-range characteristics among three sites. Two sites were within pine (Pinus radiata) habitat and had low-density possum populations, and one site was within oak (Quercus robur) and sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) habitat, and had a higher-density possum population.

Key results: Possum home-range characteristics did not vary between the two low-density sites. However, these populations exhibited considerably larger home-range sizes and home-range overlap between pairs of collared possums than did the high-density population. In addition, the low-density populations used more dens and changed these more often. Across all sites, there were generally no intersexual differences in home-range characteristics.

Key conclusions: The present research highlights that the home-range characteristics of possums can vary among populations, depending on habitat and/or population density.

Implications: Further research into the drivers of possum home-range characteristics would be beneficial to allow identification of how spatial behaviour is likely to vary depending on habitat and density. This would allow the design of more targeted and therefore effective control strategies that account for these variations in behaviour, such as using a larger spatial scale of control devices where possums are known to range further.

Additional keywords: bovine tuberculosis, den site, GPS tracking, pest management, VHF radio-tracking.


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