Australian Journal of Zoology Australian Journal of Zoology Society
Evolutionary, molecular and comparative zoology

Scats can reveal the presence and habitat use of cryptic rock-dwelling macropods

Wendy R. Telfer A B , Anthony D. Griffiths A and David M. J. S. Bowman A
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A School for Environmental Research, Charles Darwin University, Darwin, NT 0909, Australia.

B Corresponding author. Email:

Australian Journal of Zoology 54(5) 325-334
Submitted: 8 December 2005  Accepted: 2 August 2006   Published: 16 November 2006


The rock-dwelling macropod species of the tropics of the Northern Territory, Australia, are behaviourally elusive and difficult to observe in their rugged habitats. Hence, little is understood about their ecology. We evaluated the potential of using scats (faecal pellets) as a survey tool for this faunal assemblage by: (1) developing a key to the scats of the species; (2) examining the rates of loss and decomposition of short-eared rock-wallaby (Petrogale brachyotis) scats in these tropical environments; and (3) comparing the distribution of scats of P. brachyotis with the species’ use of space and habitats as determined with radio-telemetry. Classification tree modelling discriminated the scats of the seven macropod species, primarily on the basis of width. The reliability of identification was greatly improved with larger sample sizes and inclusion of a habitat parameter. Rates of scat loss and decay were variable and the greatest losses occurred in the wet season, particularly on sandy soils. Scat censuses underestimated the total area used by P. brachyotis but the distribution of scats showed the same broad pattern of habitat use found by radio-telemetry. We conclude that scats can accurately indicate the presence and habitat preferences of rock-dwelling macropod species.


We thank B. Brook for statistical advice and G. Sawyer, J. McCartney, and the Litchfield and Kakadu National Park staff for assistance in the field. This research was funded by the Hermon Slade Foundation, the ARC Key Centre for Tropical Wildlife Management and an Australian Postgraduate Award scholarship. The manuscript was improved by comments from T. O’Connor and three anonymous reviewers. The research was conducted under approval of the Charles Darwin University Animal Ethics Committee (A02011).


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