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The dynamics of a refuge: Examining patterns of mammal persistence in the Artesian Range

Updated: Mar 30

Image: Alex Hartshorne

PhD Project

University of Tasmania and Australian Wildlife Conservancy


Across northern Australia mammal diversity and abundance has dramatically crashed in the last 30 years. Many mammal species now only occur in isolated refuges such as the north Kimberley in north-western Australia. I was interested in why mammal species persist in the Artesian Range, a wild pocket of the North Kimberley that has retained all mammal species since colonisation. The project involved nine months of extremely remote fieldwork in rough terrain, studying poorly understood mammal species including the golden-backed tree rat (Mesembriomys macrurus), scaly-tailed possum (Wyulda squamicauda) and the northern quoll (Dasyurus hallucatus).

We found that characteristics of the north Kimberley such as high topographic complexity and high rainfall may help species persist in this area. We found feral cats occupied rugged areas such as the Artesina Range, less than more open habitats in the central Kimberley. Two species we studied in detail, the golden backed tree rat and the scaly tailed possum, used fire-sensitive habitats and resources, potentially more available in landscapes where rock features available in the Artesian Range, protect them from fire. High rainfall may also support species persistence, as northern quoll populations appear genetically well connected in such areas. While some features of the Artesian Range appear to support mammal persistence, the decline of mammal species in topographically complex landscapes elsewhere in northern Australia suggests that management of threats including fire and feral cats is required to prevent the loss of multiple mammal species from this region in the near future.

Images: Alex Hartshorne

From L-R: A radio-collared golden-backed tree-rat eating fruits of Terminalia hadleyana, our camp at Egg and Bacon Gully and a trap happy scaly tailed possum we called Doug.

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