Relationship between the common brushtail possum (Trichosurus vulpecula) and tuart (Eucalyptus gomphocephala) tree decline in Western Australia

Hannah Anderson, Leonie E. Valentine, Giles E.St J. Hardy, Patricia A. Fleming

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Forest canopy loss due to plant pathogens, insect or abiotic factors significantly alters habitat and resource availability for animals, which has flow-on effects for whole ecosystems. The tuart (Eucalyptus gomphocephala) has been in decline throughout its geographic range this is likely associated with watertable and salinity changes, although a plant pathogen (Phytophthora multivora) has also been implicated. We examined the relative abundance of common brushtail possums (Trichosurus vulpecula) across 12 sites (each 0.72 ha) selected on the basis of the health of dominant tuart trees (six 'healthy' and six 'declining' sites). Habitat variables (understorey, tuart dimensions and density, tree hollows, tree-to-trap distance) and tuart tree health (crown loss, epicormic regrowth) were compared with possum abundance. Possums were detected at most sites. There was no significant difference between brushtail possum numbers at 'healthy' or 'declining' sites, although marginally more possums were recorded at declining sites (5.7 ± 1.5 (s.e.), n = 6 sites) compared with healthy sites (3.3 ± 0.7 Cohen's effect size d = 0.80). Slightly higher abundance of possums was associated with sites that had a greater density of smaller-diameter but taller tuart trees. 'Declining' sites, with more epicormic regrowth and greater tree densities, may provide more palatable food resources for possums.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)67-76
Number of pages10
JournalAustralian Mammalogy
Volume42
Issue number1
Early online date3 Jul 2019
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2019

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