Rocky escarpment versus savanna woodlands: Comparing diet and body condition as indicators of habitat quality for the endangered northern quoll (Dasyurus hallucatus)

Hannah Thomas, Skye F. Cameron, Hamish A. Campbell, Mariana A. Micheli-Campbell, Ellie C. Kirke, Rebecca Wheatley, Robbie S. Wilson, Hannah Thomas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Context: Understanding what constitutes high-quality habitat for threatened species is critical for conservation management planning. The endangered northern quoll (Dasyurus hallucatus) has experienced an uneven range contraction among habitat types. Once common across multiple habitats of northern mainland Australia, declining populations have now contracted to rocky escarpments. 

Aim: The island refuge of Groote Eylandt, Northern Territory, Australia, has not experienced the declines as seen on mainland Australia. Here, northern quolls persist in both rocky escarpment and savanna woodland, which provides a rare opportunity to investigate the habitat quality of rocky escarpments and savanna woodland for the northern quoll. 

Methods: Northern quolls (n = 111) were trapped in both rocky escarpment (n = 61) and savanna woodland (n = 50) habitats before the breeding season (May). We conducted body condition assessment, scat analysis, and measured trophic niche breadth of individuals occupying each habitat type. 

Key results: Female quolls occupying rocky escarpments exhibited a lower body condition than did quolls occupying savanna woodland. Quolls from rocky escarpments consumed a significantly higher proportion of mammals and fed within a narrower dietary niche than did those occupying savanna woodland. 

Conclusions: Quolls had adapted to the dietary resources available within each habitat type, suggesting that the lack of quolls in savanna woodland on the mainland is due to factors other than availability of dietary resources. 

Implications: Groote Eylandt is of critical conservation significance, where high numbers of northern quolls exist in both rocky escarpment and savanna woodland habitats. For population viability on the mainland, managing threats such as feral predators and inappropriate fire regimes in savanna woodland, particularly those surrounding rocky escarpment, should be prioritised.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)434-443
Number of pages10
JournalWildlife Research
Volume48
Issue number5
Early online date9 Apr 2021
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 9 Apr 2021

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