Correlates of recent declines of rodents in northern and southern Australia: Habitat structure is critical

Michael Lawes, Diana Fisher, Christopher Johnson, Simon Blomberg, Anke Frank, Susanne Fritz, Hamish McCallum, Jeremy VanDerWal, Brett Abbott, Sarah Legge, Mike Letnic, Colette Thomas, Nicole Thurgate, Alaric Fisher, Iain Gordon, Alex Kutt

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    Abstract

    Australia has experienced dramatic declines and extinctions of its native rodent species over the last 200 years, particularly in southern Australia. In the tropical savanna of northern Australia significant declines have occurred only in recent decades. The later onset of these declines suggests that the causes may differ from earlier declines in the south. We examine potential regional effects (northern versus southern Australia) on biological and ecological correlates of range decline in Australian rodents. We demonstrate that rodent declines have been greater in the south than in the tropical north, are strongly influenced by phylogeny, and are consistently greater for species inhabiting relatively open or sparsely vegetated habitat. Unlike in marsupials, where some species have much larger body size than rodents, body mass was not an important predictor of decline in rodents. All Australian rodent species are within the prey-size range of cats (throughout the continent) and red foxes (in the south). Contrary to the hypothesis that mammal declines are related directly to ecosystem productivity (annual rainfall), our results are consistent with the hypothesis that disturbances such as fire and grazing, which occur in non-rainforest habitats and remove cover used by rodents for shelter, nesting and foraging, increase predation risk. We agree with calls to introduce conservation management that limits the size and intensity of fires, increases fire patchiness and reduces grazing impacts at ecological scales appropriate for rodents. Controlling feral predators, even creating predator-free reserves in relatively sparsely-vegetated habitats, is urgently required to ensure the survival of rodent species, particularly in northern Australia where declines are not yet as severe as those in the south. � 2015 Lawes et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
    Original languageEnglish
    Article numbere0130626
    Pages (from-to)1-17
    Number of pages17
    JournalPLoS One
    Volume10
    Issue number6
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 2015

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