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Correlates of recent declines of rodents in Northern and Southern Australia: habitat structure is critical


Lawes, MJ and Fisher, DO and Johnson, CN and Blomberg, SP and Frank, ASK and Fritz, SA and McCallum, H and VanDerWal, J and Abbott, BN and Legge, S and Letnic, M and Thomas, CR and Thurgate, N and Fisher, A and Gordon, IJ and Kutt, A, Correlates of recent declines of rodents in Northern and Southern Australia: habitat structure is critical, PLoS ONE, 10, (6) Article e0130626. ISSN 1932-6203 (2015) [Refereed Article]


Copyright Statement

2015 Lawes et al. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

DOI: doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0130626


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.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:threatened species, invasive species, predators, mesopredators, feral cat
Research Division:Biological Sciences
Research Group:Ecology
Research Field:Terrestrial ecology
Objective Division:Environmental Management
Objective Group:Terrestrial systems and management
Objective Field:Terrestrial biodiversity
UTAS Author:Johnson, CN (Professor Christopher Johnson)
UTAS Author:Frank, ASK (Dr Anke Frank)
ID Code:102545
Year Published:2015
Funding Support:Australian Research Council (LP100100033)
Web of Science® Times Cited:26
Deposited By:Zoology
Deposited On:2015-08-27
Last Modified:2018-03-17
Downloads:164 View Download Statistics

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