Quantifying range decline and remaining populations of the large marsupial carnivore of Australia's tropical rainforest

Uzqueda, Adriana, Burnett, Scott, Bertola, Lorenzo V., and Hoskin, Conrad J. (2020) Quantifying range decline and remaining populations of the large marsupial carnivore of Australia's tropical rainforest. Journal of Mammalogy, 101 (4). pp. 1021-1034.

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Abstract

Large predators are particularly susceptible to population declines due to large area requirements, low population density, and conflict with humans. Their low density and secretive habits also make it difficult to know the spatial extent, size, and connectivity of populations; declines hence can go unnoticed. Here, we quantified decline in a large marsupial carnivore, the spotted-tailed quoll (Dasyurus maculatus gracilis), endemic to the Wet Tropics rainforest of northeast Australia. We compiled a large database of occurrence records and used species distributional modeling to estimate the distribution in four time periods (Pre-1956, 1956-1975, 1976-1995, 1996-2016) using climate layers and three hiunan-use variables. The most supported variables in the distribution models were climatic, with highly suitable quoll habitat having relatively high precipitation, low temperatures, and a narrow annual range in temperature. Land-use type and road density also influenced quoll distribution in some time periods. The modeling revealed a significant decline in the distribution of D. in. gracilis over the last century, with contraction away from peripheral areas and from large areas of the Atherton Tablelands in the center of the distribution. Tests of the change in patch availability for populations of 20, 50, and 100 individuals revealed a substantial (17-32%) decline in available habitat for all population sizes, with a particular decline (31-40%) in core habitat (i.e., excluding edges). Six remaining populations were defined. Extrapolating capture- recapture density estimates derived from two populations in 2017 suggests these populations are small and range from about 10 to 160 individuals. Our total population estimate sums to 424 individuals, but we outline why this estimate is positively skewed and that the actual population size may be < 300 individuals. Continued decline and apparent absence in areas of highly suitable habitat suggests some threats are not being captured in our models. From our results, we provide management and research recommendations for this enigmatic predator.

Item ID: 66126
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1545-1542
Keywords: cane toad, climate change, Dasyurus maculatus gracilis, environmental variables, fragmentation, habitat suitability, mark-recapture, patch analyses, persecution, species distribution modeling
Copyright Information: © The Author(s) 2020.
Funders: Wet Tropics Management Authority (WTMA), Skyrail Foundation (SF), Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland
Date Deposited: 30 Dec 2020 07:36
FoR Codes: 41 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 4101 Climate change impacts and adaptation > 410102 Ecological impacts of climate change and ecological adaptation @ 35%
41 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 4104 Environmental management > 410401 Conservation and biodiversity @ 30%
31 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 3103 Ecology > 310307 Population ecology @ 35%
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