Bandi­coot su­per­high­way

Australian Geographic - - Wild Australia -

Two iso­lated bandi­coot pop­u­la­tions are being linked by a pas­sage­way of re­stored veg­e­ta­tion.

AS SUB­URBS EN­CROACH on bush­land, and as roads, agri­cul­ture and ur­ban in­fra­struc­ture bi­sect, frag­ment and dis­rupt the con­ti­nu­ity of habi­tat, wildlife pop­u­la­tions are al­ways at risk of be­com­ing iso­lated. When land is cleared of na­tive veg­e­ta­tion, al­ready vul­ner­a­ble species can become stranded in small ‘is­lands’ where their num­bers may not be suf­fi­cient to main­tain ge­netic vi­a­bil­ity.

This has been the fate of two iso­lated pop­u­la­tions of south­ern brown bandi­coot ( Isoodon obe­su­lus) con­fined to the 189ha Mark Oliphant Con­ser­va­tion Park and the 835ha Be­lair Na­tional Park, both in the Mt Lofty Ranges east of Ade­laide, South Aus­tralia. Re­search by the Univer­sity of Ade­laide and South Aus­tralian Mu­seum has con­firmed that these pop­u­la­tions are at risk of lo­cal ex­tinc­tion un­less there is ac­tive in­ter­ven­tion and habi­tat restora­tion. There were once seven bandi­coot species found in SA. To­day, south­ern browns are the only sur­vivors, with fox-free Kan­ga­roo Is­land being the last strong­hold of the species in that state.

The two parks lie 5km away from each other. With­out the pro­tec­tion of suit­able habi­tat link­ing the two re­serves, the bandi­coots are vul­ner­a­ble to pre­da­tion by feral cats and foxes. But since 2016, con­ser­va­tion vol­un­teers, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with 19 sep­a­rate landown­ers, have been work­ing on es­tab­lish­ing a pro­tec­tive cor­ri­dor between the re­serves for the bandi­coots to use.

It’s hoped the re­stored veg­e­ta­tion will en­cour­age the pop­u­la­tions to in­ter­mix and breed, strength­en­ing the species’ gene pool and min­imis­ing the risk of ad­verse ge­netic ef­fects caused by in­breed­ing.

Iron­i­cally, the usu­ally ben­e­fi­cial clear­ing of in­va­sive veg­e­ta­tion such as black­ber­ries has in the past left the bandi­coots ex­posed to feral at­tack. Weed­ing and reveg­e­ta­tion are now being tack­led as one seam­less ex­er­cise.

With the in­cre­men­tal re­moval of dense in­fes­ta­tions of black­ber­ries matched to the es­tab­lish­ment of ad­e­quate na­tive veg­e­ta­tion cover, what has been dubbed a ‘bandi­coot su­per­high­way’ just might have a chance of saving two relict pop­u­la­tions of en­dan­gered mar­su­pi­als.

South­ern brown bandi­coot.

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