Ecology of the honey possum, Tarsipes Rostratus, in Scott National Park, Western Australia

Don Bradshaw, R.D. Phillips, Sean Tomlinson, R.J. Holley, S.A. Jennings, Felicity Bradshaw

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    The Honey possum, Tarsipes rostratus, is an obligate nectarivore, known to feed on plant species from only three Families in south-western Western Australia: Myrtaceae, Proteaceae and Epacridaceae. These plants can be adversely affected by fire, decreased rainfall or groundwater levels and the pathogen Phytophthora cinnamomi. We investigated the ecology of T. rostratus in terms of: (i) how the population fluctuated in response to rainfall and fire over a 20-year period and (ii) changes in diet and movements during a period of decreased food availability in late summer. Mean capture rates were significantly positively correlated with mean flowering rates of Banksia ilicifolia over a 20-year period. Winter capture rates were also significantly positively correlated with both annual and winter rainfall two years prior to trapping in recently burnt areas, but not in long unburnt areas. Capture rates were significantly higher in unburnt Banksia woodland during winter but densities there have declined since 1996, associated with the death of many Banksia ilicifolia trees from persistent Phytophthora infection. Notwithstanding this decline, winter capture rates in the unburnt areas were still approximately double those in the burnt areas 6 years after the last fire. Short-term capture rates were negatively correlated with barometric pressure, showing that movement and foraging is stimulated by the passage of low pressure frontal weather systems. Despite the paucity of known food sources flowering in late summer and autumn, there was no evidence of T. rostratus using plant species from other than the three above-noted Families. Utilisation areas in summer were also no larger than those previously recorded across all seasons in Scott National Park. Some individuals, however, moved extensive distances to locate spatially restricted food sources. The conservatism of their diet and the sensitivity of the population to changes in rainfall and fire history indicate that T. rostratus populations are particularly vulnerable to some of the environmental changes now occurring in south-western Australia.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)25-38
    JournalAustralian Mammalogy
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2007


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