In Australia, numerous small mammal species have suffered extinction or severe declines in distribution and abundance following European settlement. The extent of these declines from forested areas of south-eastern Australia, however, remains poorly understood. In this paper we use sub-fossil deposits of the sooty owl ( Tyto tenebricosa tenebricosa ) as a tool for understanding the diversity of the small mammal palaeocommunity. These results are compared to the contemporary sooty owl diet from the same geographical region to investigate the degree of small mammal decline following European settlement. Of 28 mammal species detected in sub-fossil deposits and considered prey items of the sooty owl at the time of European settlement, only 10 species were detected in the contemporary sooty owl diet. Numerous small mammal species have not only recently suffered severe declines in distribution and abundance but have also recently undergone niche contraction, as they occupied a greater diversity of regions and habitats at the time of European settlement. For some species our understanding of their true ecological niche and ecological potential is therefore limited. The species that underwent the greatest declines occupied open habitat types or were terrestrial. The severity of decline is also likely to have resulted in severe disruption of ecosystem functions, with wide scale ecosystem consequences. There is an urgent need to improve small mammal conservation, to maintain crucial ecosystem functions performed by small mammals. It is recommended that broad-scale exotic predator control programs are conducted which may also provide suitable conditions for the re-introduction of locally extinct species.
Biological Conservation – Elsevier
Published: Jan 1, 2010
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