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

Habitat characteristics of a threatened arboreal marsupial and its resource use in a degraded landscape: the brush-tailed phascogale (Phascogale tapoatafa tapoatafa) in central Victoria, Australia

C. Mansfield A , A. H. Arnold B C , T. L. Bell D and A. York A E
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A School of Ecosystem and Forest Sciences, University of Melbourne, Water Street, Creswick, Vic. 3363, Australia.

B Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, Ballarat Office, Mair Street, Ballarat, Vic. 3350, Australia.

C School of Science, Information Technology and Engineering, Federation University, Ballarat, Vic. 3350, Australia.

D Faculty of Agriculture and Environment, University of Sydney, Eveleigh, NSW 2015, Australia.

E Corresponding author. Email: alan.york@unimelb.edu.au

Wildlife Research 44(2) 153-164 https://doi.org/10.1071/WR16104
Submitted: 3 March 2016  Accepted: 14 March 2017   Published: 19 April 2017

Abstract

Context: Habitat loss and degradation has contributed significantly to the decline of many species worldwide. To address this loss, we first require a comprehensive understanding of habitat requirements and resource-use patterns of the species under threat.

Aims: The study aimed to quantify variation in the habitat of a species threatened by habitat loss and degradation, the brush-tailed phascogale (Phascogale tapoatafa tapoatafa), by measuring several physical characteristics of trees and ground cover, as well as to determine potential foraging resource preferences using abundance data from a long-term monitoring study.

Methods: Phascogale monitoring surveys were conducted over a 13-year period from 2000 to 2012. Habitat variables characterising tree communities, ground cover and coarse woody debris were used to develop explanatory models of phascogale abundance at the site scale. Tree species preference by foraging phascogales was evaluated by comparing usage (trees on which they were captured) and availability.

Key results: The highest overall animal abundance was at sites characterised by associations of red stringybark, red box, grey box and broad-leaved and narrow-leaved peppermints. At these sites, red stringybark and grey box trees were of small diameter and tended to have small hollows. These sites also had low average tree height, low grass and/or herb and shrub cover and low volumes of coarse woody debris. From a resource-use perspective, phascogales foraged preferentially on certain species of Eucalyptus.

Conclusions: Our study suggests that phascogale abundance is highly spatially and temporally variable, most likely as a response to heterogeneity in habitat and foraging resources operating at a range of spatial scales.

Implications: This study has provided new information concerning spatial patterns of phascogale abundance and resource use within a forested area in central Victoria that has been subjected to multiple disturbances. Currently, the composition and age structure of tree communities and ground habitats are a response to severe disturbance due to past mining and harvesting activities. Successful conservation of this threatened species could be enhanced through active management of this forest to maintain the ongoing supply of nesting hollows and foraging resources.

Additional keywords: arboreal habitat, coarse woody debris, resource use, species abundance.


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