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Preserving mammals in northern Australian savannahs

Preserving mammals in northern Australian savannahs

Image: A Brush-tailed Rabbit-rat (Conilurus penicillatus) on Melville Island. Image credit: Hugh Davies.

Research by an ARC Future Fellow, Dr Brett Murphy, at Charles Darwin University is informing environmental management practices to stem the decline of a range of small mammals across northern Australian savannahs.

Frequent, intense fires open up and simplify the understorey—thereby facilitating hunting of small native mammals by feral cats. Dr Murphy, supported by his previous ARC Discovery Early Career Researcher Award, looked at the threatened brush-tailed rabbit-rat, Conilurus penicillatus, a species which once occurred more widely at Melville Island off the coast of the Northern Territory, but is now limited only to areas where feral cats are rarely detected and shrub density is high.

His research suggested that feral cats are driving C. penicillatus towards extinction on Melville Island, and hence have likely been a significant driver in the decline of this species in northern Australia more broadly. He found that the impact of feral cats was strongly influenced by vegetation structure.

Dr Murphy is now building upon his research through his current ARC Future Fellowship, which is focussed on exploring the drivers of biodiversity and impacts of environmental change in tropical savannahs.

  In response to Dr Murphy’s research findings, fire management regimes that promote denser, shrubby understorey, to help conserve a range of declining small native mammals, are now being trialled in the region, and in Kakadu National Park.


Image: A Brush-tailed Rabbit-rat (Conilurus penicillatus) on Melville Island. Image credit: Hugh Davies.

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