Should we be reintroducing rare marsupials to the wild?

By AG Staff 26 October 2017
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While reintroducing a rare marsupial to its original ecosystem is a worthwhile objective, one scientists argues that a better understanding of these rare marsupials biology and diets should come first.

A PHD STUDENT from the University of Queensland (UQ) has warned that ground-dwelling birds that are already suffering steep population declines may be further threatened by the reintroduction of rare Australian marsupials to the wild.

The research by Graham Fulton from the School of Biological Sciences at UQ, published this week in the Australian Journal of Zoology, argues for a more comprehensive understanding of the impacts of these marsupials— their biology and diet before reintroductions occur. 

Graham carried out his research in Dryandra in south-west Australia where he used 100 artificial nests with clay eggs to test whether three marsupials— the boodie and woylie bettongs and brushtail possums, would take the eggs.

“I went to extremes to avoid leaving scent trails that might alert these predators to the presence of the nests. I wanted predators to behave as naturally as possible,” he told Australian Geographic. “Approximately one-third of the eggs were taken by the two bettongs and another third by brushtail possums.”

Graham says that the results from his most recent study indicate that the eggs of these threatened birds may be a component of several rare marsupials diets.  

“This has happened on the Wallabi Islands in the Houtman Abrolhos. The sub-species there are the Houtman Abrolhos painted button-quail. The introduced marsupial is the Tammar wallaby. I have no direct evidence that the Tammar wallaby is taking eggs of the button-quail, but given our growing understanding the kangaroos will eat meat and eggs I would suggest that targeted quality research be undertaken into how these species interact.”

According to Graham, the rarity of some of these reintroduced marsupials makes it hard to understand what their eating in the wild. He says it’s also difficult to observe predation events, which occur over just a few seconds.

“I know that my research will be treated sceptically by those who do not want to believe that bettongs have a carnivorous component to their diet and seriously by others that believe that this research must be followed upon by learning more about rare marsupials.”