Ecology and conservation status of the brush-tailed rabbit-rat, Conilurus penicillatus

  • Ronald Stuart Craig Firth

    Student thesis: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) - CDU


    In this thesis I investigate the ecology of the threatened brush-tailed rabbit-rat Conilurus penicillatus, specifically including diet, movements and shelter sites, population dynamics, and habitat preference and use. I then use this information as a base from which to consider possible causes of decline and to provide advice for remedial management. This study was conducted primarily at two main sites, Cobourg Peninsula (with two sub-sites) and Kakadu National Park, with additional information gathered from the Tiwi Islands. The diet of C. penicillatus consists primarily of seed, particularly from perennial grasses. The mean home range size is 0.79 ha; whilst males had larger home ranges than females, there were no significant differences in home-range size among the sites or between seasons. Conilurus penicillatus denned primarily in fallen logs and in hollows of eucalypts and bloodwoods. Apparent survival probability for C. penicillatus varied noticeably over the study and was best described by a model that included main and interaction effects of sex, site and sampling occasion. Population densities at the three sites ranged from 0.35 to 7.1 individuals ha-1. Conilurus penicillatus reproduced during the dry season (May-October) and most juveniles also entered the population during this period. On the Tiwi Islands C. penicillatus was most likely to occur in tall eucalypt forest away from watercourses, where there was more bare ground and where fires had been less severe and/or less recent. The species remains common and widespread on Cobourg Peninsula and Tiwi Islands, but is very restricted within Kakadu National Park. In common with the habitat relationships on the Tiwi Islands, in the mainland study sites Conilurus penicillatus was most likely to occur in tall eucalypt forests, where there was less bare ground and less cover of annual grasses and where fires had been less severe. The most likely cause of decline is changes in fire regimes as a result of the loss of traditional Aboriginal fire management.
    Date of Award2007
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorJohn Woinarski (Supervisor) & Richard Noske (Supervisor)

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