Ground dwelling birds face new threat from reintroduced marsupials

November 3, 2017

Reintroduction danger: releasing endangered marsupials can cause a cascade of threats. Credit John Lawson.

A new study has found evidence that Australian native marsupials re-introduced in south-west Australia may take eggs from the nests of ground-dwelling birds.

Murdoch University adjunct researcher Graham Fulton focused on the ground-nesting and dwelling birds in Dryandra, south-east of Perth.

Mr Fulton said ground-dwelling birds had generally declined at a greater rate than other Australian bird groups, with predation of eggs suggested as an important factor.

“We do not yet know enough about the predatory risks for ground-nesting birds,” he said.

“Marsupials are not generally regarded as potential nest-predators of these birds, because these animals are too rare to fully understand their biology.”

Mr Fulton developed artificial nests modelled on that of the threatened Painted Button-quail and recorded any predator interest.

“Approximately one-third of the eggs were taken by two bettong species (the Boodie and the Woylie) and another third by Brushtail Possums,” he said.

Mr Fulton also recorded bettongs consuming vertebrate items including live prey, highlighting that they are more carnivorous than previously thought.

“I worked in a region where foxes and cats have been poisoned since the 1980s so I had the opportunity to watch rare mammal behaviour,” Mr Fulton said.

“Bettongs have largely disappeared from mainland Australia. The Boodie was extinct from the mainland, existing only on an off-shore island, but was re-introduced during my study.

“My work demonstrates a need to better understand the biology of rare marsupials before re-introduction.”

Fulton suggested more research was required on the impacts of reintroductions to avoid deleterious effects on resident species.

The study was published in the Australian Journal of Zoology.

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