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

Fluctuations of rodent populations in response to rainfall and fire in a central Australian hummock grassland dominated by Plectrachne schinzii

R Southgate and P Masters

Wildlife Research 23(3) 289 - 303
Published: 1996


Fluctuations in the composition and abundance of a small-mammal assemblage were studied in a hummock grassland dominated by Plectrachne schinzii at Watarrka National Park from 1988 to 1993. During this period an experiment was conducted to examine the short-term effects of fire on the rodents. We caught three species of rodent (Pseudomys hermannsburgensis, Notomys alexis and Mus domesticus). All species reached their greatest density in spring 1989 during an exceptionally wet period that extended from mid- 1988 to 1990. P. hermannsburgensis was the most abundant species and showed a 10-fold fluctuation in numbers over the sample period; N. alexis was the next most abundant species and showed a 5-fold increase but the population took longer to decline. M. domesticus was recorded only during the period of high rainfall. The number of M. domesticus was significantly less on the burnt plots than on the unburnt plots. Neither P. hermannsburgensis nor N. alexis showed significant differences between burnt and unburnt plots. This study illustrates the impact of rainfall events on the composition and density of small-mammal populations in spinifex grasslands in central Australia. Our results lead to the prediction that rodent populations will achieve densities in the order of 10 individuals ha-' or more in regions that experience three consecutive 6-month periods each with rainfall at 150% of the long-term average. This sequence apparently needs to follow a dry period where rainfall is no more than 85% of the long-term annual average for two consecutive 12-month periods.


© CSIRO 1996

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