The Carpentarian Rock-rat Zyzomys palatalis is a rare conilurine rodent with a global distribution restricted to a small area of sandstone escarpments in the Gulf of Carpentaria region of the Northern Territory. Previous assessments of its World Conservation Union (IUCN) status in 1996 had classified the species as Critically Endangered based on the restricted area of occupancy and a putative decline in the extent and quality of its closed forest habitat due to uncontrolled landscape fires. A later population viability analysis confirmed that habitat loss was potentially the single most important threatening process. Here we argue that the species should be reclassified as Vulnerable, on the basis of the following new evidence: (1) the assumption that it was a closed forest specialist was not supported by a radio-tracking study, which showed that on average 43% of an individual's monitored time was spent in the forest-savannah margin, and (2) analysis of repeat historical aerial photography has shown that the core closed forest habitat has in fact increased by 36% over the last 50 years. This has lead to an increase of 140 in the minimum number of equivalent Z palatalis territories, from 387 to 587, when home range overlaps and utilization of the savannah margins are considered. Reclassification of the species' conservation status should be accompanied with: (i) genetic studies of relatedness between isolated populations; (ii) monitoring and maintenance of the integrity of the landscapes, including creeklines that connect patches; and (iii) consideration of the introduction of captive bred specimens into an adjacent unoccupied fragments.
Extinction, Conservation status, IUCN, Fire management, Conilurine Rodent, Northern Territory.