The little Aussie mouse surviving against all odds

Researchers once worried the native smoky mouse was at threat of local extinction, but the population of these tiny troopers persists.
By Anne Johnston January 19, 2016 Reading Time: 2 Minutes

IN FEBRUARY 2013, a fire in Victoria Valley in the Grampians, Victoria, spread through 35,000 hectares of land and many small animals were not found again – but the smoky mouse survived.

It’s the little mouse that could – so much so, that this hardy little Aussie rodent, which only weighs about 50g, warranted a research paper. In November 2015, Pheobe Burns, an ecologist at the University of Melbourne, and Dr Kevin Rowe from Museum Victoria published a study in the CSIRO journal Wildlife Research, investigating the persistent survival of the smoky mouse (Pseudomys fumeus) – which lives in wet drainage systems, but has managed to survive through years of drought and to breed in burnt areas.

Despite this small survivor’s efforts so far, it is still classified as endangered. Before the 2013 fires, 28 smoky mice had been trapped for counting before being re-released. After the fires, only nine were counted.

However, natural disasters aren’t the biggest threat to smoky mouse survival.

Ben Holmes, Parks Victoria coordinator, also runs Grampian’s Ark, a project aimed at controlling the fox populations that threaten native animals like the smoky mouse. Ben says that, for the moment, “predator [control] is about the only thing we can do.” 

Researchers know very little about the native mouse, despite being “one of the key species” of value to the park, Ben says. “[We have] no idea of the extent of the population,” he says, adding that more research into the animals’ habits is needed before more conservation efforts can be put in place.

Indicator species

The smoky mouse is considered an ‘indicator species’ – in other words, any information learnt about it and its survival can be projected onto other species in that area, giving researchers a greater understanding of the parks and wildlife.

While there have been discussions about captive breeding, Ben says that what they can and cannot do for the smoky mouse is a matter of “whether we have the resources or the backing”.

Ben says he would like to do more trappings to count the smoky mouse and gain more insight into its population numbers – and just how it is able to survive such harsh conditions.

“Their intrinsic value is unquestionable in the park,” he says.

 

Smoky mouse parks Victoria

Image courtesy Parks Victoria.

Timeline of the smoky mouse

1970s

Smoky mouse population recorded in the summit of Mount Williams in the Grampians, Victoria (24 recorded)

2002 

15 smoky mice recorded in the Grampians

2008

No smoky mice found in that area

2012

28 mice recorded

2013 

Devastating fire and only nine mice recorded

2014

A worrying decline with only three mice recorded

2015

“The year we thought we weren’t going to find any,” says Ben. Seven mice were counted at Mount Williams. Across four other areas, 24 mice were found in total.

2016 

Captive breeding programs are being discusses and more research is needed better understand the smoky mouse.

 

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