Date of Award

2007

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Science Honours

School

School of Natural Sciences

Faculty

Faculty of Computing, Health and Science

First Advisor

Dr Eddie van Etten

Second Advisor

Dr Patrick Smith

Third Advisor

Dr Mark Lund

Abstract

Revegetation has the potential to enhance conservation of wildlife in rural environments, but few studies have tested whether the proposed benefits are realized. It is important to understand the role played by farm tree plantations in the landscape and how the potential biodiversity benefits may be enhanced without interfering with economic goals (Lamb, 1998). The adoption of oil mallee farming systems across the agricultural zone in south-west Western Australia is resulting in large areas of farmland being planted to native perennial tree species (Smith, 2004). While not planted for their conservation benefit, oil mallee systems may nonetheless enhance biodiversity. The Commonwealth Science and Industry Research Organisation (CSIRO) and the Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for Plant Based Management of Salinity are funding a three year project within the Narrogin district of Western Australia to determine the biodiversity values of oil mallee farming systems (Smith, 2004). The surveys examine the diversity and abundance of native animals in the oil mallees and other vegetation types on 30 farms, using 108 sites in the Narrogin region of the West Australian wheat belt. Results from the first survey in 2005 showed that a wide variety of native animals can be found in the oil mallee plantations such as birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates. Therefore it appears that these plantations are providing some resource to native biodiversity (Smith, 2004). One mammal species that had been observed throughout the project surveys and particularly within oil mallee plantations was the western pygmy possum (Cercartetus concinnus). C. concinnus is a small nocturnal marsupial that is fawn or reddish-brown above and white below with a finely-scaled, naked tail. Adult western pygmy possums weigh 8-20 g (average 13 g) and have a head/body length of 71-106 mm and a tail length of 71-96 mm (Smith, 1995). Their diet consists of nectar, pollen, insects and other small arthropods and may also include small lizards (Bennett & Lumsden, 1995). Little is known about many aspects of the ecology of western pygmy possums. The lack of information about this species may be due to their small size, cryptic nature and low trapability, as the nocturnal habits and mobility of these possums have made them difficult species for field study (Bowen & Goldingay, 2000). Effective management and conservation of arboreal marsupials requires detailed knowledge of their habitat requirements (Kemp & Carthew, 2004). However, there have been few targeted studies on the western pygmy possum and there is clearly a need for further research on this small, cryptic species. The utilisation of farm tree plantations by the western pygmy possum was an unexpected discovery and therefore, this study attempted to determine the habitat utilisation patterns of the western pygmy possum and the value of oil mallee plantations and revegetated farm land in .the southern wheatbelt region. All of the study sites were situated on farms throughout the Shires of Narrogin, Cuballing and Wickepin. Based on observations from radio tracking, some particular habitat characteristics that seemed important to western pygmy possums became evident. These important habitat characteristics appeared to be the type of vegetation, whether large trees with hollows were in the vicinity and the amount of flowering trees available. It is hoped that this study can improve the low public-profile of the western pygmy possum to ensure continued support for conservation and management initiatives and; recommendations can be given to local farmers on how to manage and/or modify farm tree plantations to enhance their biodiversity value within the landscape.

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Zoology Commons

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