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

Denning Habits of Common Brushtail Possums, Trichosurus Vulpecula, in New Zealand Lowland Forest.

PE Cowan

Australian Wildlife Research 16(1) 63 - 78
Published: 1989


Fifty-five T. vulpecula were radio-tracked to 182 den sites on 1987 occasions in the podocarp and mixed hardwood forest of the Orongorongo Valley, near Wellington. Most dens (92%) were above ground in trees, particularly in large trees with many clumps of perching epiphytes; the remainder were under fallen logs or trees or in dense tangles of gorse. Melicytus ramiflorus was the most commonly used living tree species. Others used commonly were Knightia excelsa, Elaeocarpus dentatus, Laurelia novaezealandiae [L. novae-zelandiae] and Podocarpus totara. Use was not dictated solely by availability. Trees without perching epiphytes were hardly ever used. Each possum used 11-15 den trees/yr, most only occasionally; the 3 most commonly used den trees accounted for 60-75% of observations. Males used more dens than females, and the sexes differed in their frequencies of the use of the various tree species, though not in the species used. Possums changed dens frequently, on average 2 nights in 3. Den sharing was uncommon, but many dens, including those on the ground, were used sequentially by several (up to 9) different possums. Dens on the ground were used mostly in autumn and winter, by possums in poor condition or after prolonged heavy rain. The implications of den site choice and use by possums are discussed, particularly in relation to den sites as a limiting resource, and the role of dens in the transmission of bovine tuberculosis. There was about a 50% chance that a den would be occupied by different possums within the probable survival period of deposited tuberculosis bacilli.


© CSIRO 1989

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