Australian Journal of Zoology
School of Science / Centre for Conservation and Biodiversity
Centre of Excellence for Climate Change Woodland and Forest Health / Murdoch University
Bioturbation by digging animals is important for key forest ecosystem processes such as soil turnover, decomposition, nutrient cycling, water infiltration, seedling recruitment, and fungal dispersal. Despite their widespread geographic range, little is known about the role of the short-beaked echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus) in forest ecosystems. We measured the density and size of echidna diggings in the Northern Jarrah Forest, south-western Australia, to quantify the contribution echidna make to soil turnover. We recorded an overall density of 298 echidna diggings per hectare, 21 % of which were estimated to be less than 1 month old. The average size of digs was 50 ± 25 mm in depth and 160 ± 61 mm in length. After taking into account seasonal digging rates, we estimated that echidnas turn over 1.23 tonnes of soil ha-1 year-1 in this forest, representing an important role in ecosystem dynamics. Our work contributes to the growing body of evidence quantifying the role of these digging animals as critical ecosystem engineers. Given that the echidna is the only Australian digging mammal not severely impacted by population decline or range reduction, its functional contribution to health and resilience of forest ecosystems is increasingly important due to the functional loss of most Australian digging mammals.
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