Protecting Tiwi wildlife is a hollow argument

Image credit: Cara Penton

Protecting Tiwi wildlife is a hollow argument

Climbing trees reveals a housing shortage for tree-rats and other endangered animals.

Estimates of tree hollows – which form the houses of several endangered species in northern Australia – are much too high, researchers at Charles Darwin University in the Northern Territory have found.

And the discovery could be bad news for several of Australia’s most vulnerable species, including the Black-Footed Tree-Rat (Mesembriomys gouldii) and Brush Tailed Rabbit-Rat (Conilurus penicillatus).

“The most common approach to assessing the abundance of tree hollows is a ground-based count, usually aided by binoculars to scan the canopy and identify hollows,” says scientist Cara Penton.

“But our work shows that this method results in pretty big over-estimates.”

To check the accuracy of the approach, Ms Penton climbed over 180 trees on the Tiwi Islands to get a closer look.

Many of the all-important hollows, she discovered, were actually blocked solid by termites and provided no shelter for larger animals.

A clearer understanding of the abundance of hollows, she adds, is important for identifying and managing areas of high conservation value.

The research is published in the journal Forest Ecology and Management.

Peer review:

Penton, C et al. “Blocked off: termitaria cause the overestimation of tree hollow availability by ground-based surveys in northern Australia.” Forest Ecology and Management published online 13 December 2019 for print publication 15 February 2020 DOI:  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foreco.2019.117707

Tree hollow reliance of three arboreal mammals on the Tiwi islands, northern Australia. Penton et al. Spoken paper at the 65th Australian Mammal Society Conference.

Funded by:

Australian Research Council and Department of Biodiversity, Conversations and Attractions

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