Returning a lost process by reintroducing a locally extinct digging marsupial

Munro, Nicola T., McIntyre, Sue, Macdonald, Ben, Cunningham, Saul, Gordon, Iain J., Cunningham, Ross B., and Manning, Adrian D. (2019) Returning a lost process by reintroducing a locally extinct digging marsupial. PeerJ, 7. e6622.

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The eastern bettong (Bettongia gaimardi), a medium-sized digging marsupial, was reintroduced to a predator-free reserve after 100 years of absence from the Australian mainland. The bettong may have the potential to restore temperate woodlands degraded by a history of livestock grazing, by creating numerous small disturbances by digging. We investigated the digging capacity of the bettong and compared this to extant fauna, to answer the first key question of whether this species could be considered an ecosystem engineer, and ultimately if it has the capacity to restore lost ecological processes. We found that eastern bettongs were frequent diggers and, at a density of 0.3-0.4 animals ha-1, accounted for over half the total foraging pits observed (55%), with echidnas (Tachyglossus aculeatus), birds and feral rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) accounting for the rest. We estimated that the population of bettongs present dug 985 kg of soil per ha per year in our study area. Bettongs dug more where available phosphorus was higher, where there was greater basal area of Acacia spp. and where kangaroo grazing was less. There was no effect on digging of eucalypt stem density or volume of logs on the ground. While bettong digging activity was more frequent under trees, digging also occurred in open grassland, and bettongs were the only species observed to dig in scalds (areas where topsoil has eroded to the B Horizon). These results highlight the potential for bettongs to enhance soil processes in a way not demonstrated by the existing fauna (native birds and echidna), and introduced rabbit.

Item ID: 62033
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 2167-8359
Keywords: Bioturbation, Ecosystem engineering, Reintroduction, Restoration, Soil processes
Copyright Information: © 2019 Munro et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, reproduction and adaptation in any medium and for any purpose provided that it is properly attributed. For attribution, the original author(s), title, publication source (PeerJ) and either DOI or URL of the article must be cited.
Funders: Australian Research Council (ARC)
Projects and Grants: Mulligans Flat–Goorooyarroo Woodland Experiment, ARC Linkage LP0561817, ARC Linkage LP110100126, ARC Linkage LP140100209, ARC Future Fellowship FT100100385
Date Deposited: 25 May 2020 01:29
FoR Codes: 41 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 4104 Environmental management > 410401 Conservation and biodiversity @ 35%
41 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 4102 Ecological applications > 410203 Ecosystem function @ 35%
41 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 4106 Soil sciences > 410603 Soil biology @ 30%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9614 Soils > 961499 Soils not elsewhere classified @ 50%
96 ENVIRONMENT > 9605 Ecosystem Assessment and Management > 960505 Ecosystem Assessment and Management of Forest and Woodlands Environments @ 50%
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