A previous study (Braithwaite & Muller 1997) reported substantial declines in mammal abundance over the period 1986–1993 for a large study area (300 km2) within Kakadu National Park in the tropical savannas of northern Australia. This decline was reported as being a ‘natural’ response to fluctuating groundwater levels, driven by runs of poor wet seasons. We resampled mammals in this area in 1999, following a series of unusually good wet seasons, and examined the prediction that mammal numbers should have recovered. Increases in abundance were evident for four species: the smallest dasyurid (red‐cheeked dunnart Sminthopsis virginiae) and the three smallest rodents (delicate mouse Pseudomys delicatulus, western chestnut mouse Pseudomys nanus and grassland melomys Melomys burtoni). In contrast, the abundance of all mammals combined and that for seven individual mammal species (northern quoll Dasyurus hallucatus, fawn antechinus Antechinus bellus, common brushtail possum Trichosurus vulpecula, northern brown bandicoot Isoodon macrourus, dusky rat Rattus colletti, black‐footed tree‐rat Mesembriomys gouldii and pale field rat Rattus tunneyi) continued to decline. The decline in abundance of these mammal species is consistent with limited observations elsewhere in northern Australia. Although far from conclusive, these observations suggest that the biota of the vast relatively undisturbed tropical savannas can no longer be assumed to be intact nor safe. Further research is needed to test this possible pattern of decline and, if confirmed, to identify and ameliorate the processes contributing to it.
Austral Ecology – Wiley
Published: Aug 1, 2001
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