Movement ecology of an endangered mesopredator in a mining landscape

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Abstract

Background: Efficient movement and energy expenditure are vital for animal survival. Human disturbance can alter animal movement due to changes in resource availability and threats. Some animals can exploit anthropogenic disturbances for more efficient movement, while others face restricted or inefficient movement due to fragmentation of high-resource habitats, and risks associated with disturbed habitats. Mining, a major anthropogenic disturbance, removes natural habitats, introduces new landscape features, and alters resource distribution in the landscape. This study investigates the effect of mining on the movement of an endangered mesopredator, the northern quoll (Dasyurus hallucatus). Using GPS collars and accelerometers, we investigate their habitat selection and energy expenditure in an active mining landscape, to determine the effects of this disturbance on northern quolls. Methods: We fit northern quolls with GPS collars and accelerometers during breeding and non-breeding season at an active mine site in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. We investigated broad-scale movement by calculating the movement ranges of quolls using utilisation distributions at the 95% isopleth, and compared habitat types and environmental characteristics within observed movement ranges to the available landscape. We investigated fine-scale movement by quolls with integrated step selection functions, assessing the relative selection strength for each habitat covariate. Finally, we used piecewise structural equation modelling to analyse the influence of each habitat covariate on northern quoll energy expenditure. Results: At the broad scale, northern quolls predominantly used rugged, rocky habitats, and used mining habitats in proportion to their availability. However, at the fine scale, habitat use varied between breeding and non-breeding seasons. During the breeding season, quolls notably avoided mining habitats, whereas in the non-breeding season, they frequented mining habitats equally to rocky and riparian habitats, albeit at a higher energetic cost. Conclusion: Mining impacts northern quolls by fragmenting favoured rocky habitats, increasing energy expenditure, and potentially impacting breeding dispersal. While mining habitats might offer limited resource opportunities in the non-breeding season, conservation efforts during active mining, including the creation of movement corridors and progressive habitat restoration would likely be useful. However, prioritising the preservation of natural rocky and riparian habitats in mining landscapes is vital for northern quoll conservation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number5
JournalMovement Ecology
Volume12
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2024

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