Quolls and bandicoots benefit from woodlands project

12 August 2015

Finding three times as many Eastern Barred Bandicoots as expected gives a good indication that native fauna and flora conservation work is making a difference at Mt Rothwell Biodiversity Interpretation Centre. The predator-free 420-hectare property is an “ark”, established to conserve and protect remnant threatened vegetation communities, and provide habitat for threatened fauna, including the Eastern Barred Bandicoot, Eastern Quoll and the Brush-Tailed Wallaby. The centre recently received a $16,280 grant from the regional stream of the Australian Government’s National Landcare Programme to enhance old-growth forests and protect them as “quoll-ity woodlands”, supporting habitat for threatened fauna. The project is being coordinated through the Port Phillip and Westernport CMA. A recent Zoos Victoria survey on the property counted more than 1100 Eastern Barred Bandicoot in an area where rabbits are excluded – almost three times the expected number. Even though bandicoots are omnivorous, rabbits overgraze and destroy the grasslands the bandicoots need for nesting. The number of critically-endangered Eastern Quolls is also now more than 50, the largest self-sustaining population outside Tasmania, and the majority are roaming free on the property. Their numbers were boosted by the recent arrivals of joeys for six of the eight pairs they are breeding in captivity. The females breed once a year and give birth to up to 30 young (the size of a grain of rice). Only the first few to make it into the pouch and latch onto the teats will survive. One joey from each litter will be sent to help populate the Mulligan’s Flat Sanctuary conservation project. There is growing recognition of the successful programs being run at Mt Rothwell. The centre’s manager, Annette Rypalski, was recently invited to attend Australia’s first Threatened Species Summit, held last month in Melbourne. The property’s remnant woodlands support these vital habitats and predate European settlement. Reserve officer, Jacqui Young said the old-growth trees had started to show signs of stress and were not showing sufficient natural revegetation. “We need to protect them, particularly from the rabbit and brush-tailed possum populations,” she said. “We are trying to ensure the trees don’t lose condition.” The centre engaged an ecologist to identify the vegetation needs and correct density for future plantings. The Geelong Community Nursery, which is managed by Karingal, has collected seed from the old-growth trees on the property and is growing tube stock for revegetation work. In addition to exclusion fencing, the centre is trialling different methods of rabbit control, including the release of some larger spotted quoll males, at least one of which is an extremely effective rabbit eradication machine. “We can tell from the scat that one particular male is very efficient and almost exclusively targets rabbits,” she said. Jacqui said important factors in the centre’s success were vigilance and the dedication of volunteers who assist with programs and activities on the property. All fences are checked daily to ensure no apex predators such as foxes can enter the property. For more information, contact the Port Phillip & Westernport CMA on (03) 8781 7900 or enquiries@ppwcma.vic.gov.au.