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DISPLAYING POSTS BY: Phoebe Burns (2)

Smoky mouse update

Author
by Phoebe Burns
Publish date
25 February 2014
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Comments (3)

Phoebe is a University of Melbourne Masters student supervised by Dr. Kevin Rowe at MV. She is studying post-fire distribution and ecology of the Smoky Mouse in the Grampians National Park.

In September 2013, I moved to the Grampians, pitched a tent and set out to see how the endangered Smoky Mouse, Pseudomys fumeus, was faring in the aftermath of the February 2013 Victoria Valley fire. After three soot-covered months, I’m back in Melbourne enjoying modern comforts like showers and instant boiling water.

Grampians landscape Grampians landscape
Image: Phoebe Burns
Source: Museum Victoria
 

I began my surveys at the site where, prior to the fire, we found a healthy population of Smoky Mice in the November 2012 Museum Victoria Bioscan. By September regrowing bracken ferns and eucalypts added a splash of green to the blackened landscape. In spite of the devastation, I caught several healthy Smoky Mice including some of the same individuals we’d caught the previous November! The ecological significance of this discovery alone was cause to celebrate.

Adult Smoky Mouse Adult Smoky Mouse on a burnt log
Image: Phoebe Burns
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Between my first capture in September and my final trapping night in December, I surveyed 46 sites in and out of the burn scar across the Victoria Range in the Grampians. At six of those sites, all within the burn scar, I found Smoky Mice living in the rocky habitats. The mice in these populations were not just surviving, they were healthy and breeding. I caught adults weighing as much as 70 grams but I also found tiny juveniles newly emerged from the nest weighing only 12 grams.  

Juvenile Smoky Mouse Juvenile Smoky Mouse
Image: Phoebe Burns
Source: Museum Victoria
 

While I was looking to find Smoky Mice, my trapping methods meant I also caught a number of other small mammal species (and a few reptiles). I was lucky enough to encounter Swamp Rats, Rattus lutreolus, Heath Mice, Pseudomys shortridgei, Agile Antechinus, Antechinus agilis, and Dusky Antechinus, Antechinus swainsonii. The highlights of my small mammal by-catch were two tiny Eastern Pygmy Possums, Cercatus nanus, that found their way into my traps.

Eastern Pygmy Possum Adult female Eastern Pygmy Possum
Image: Phoebe Burns
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The last three months were physically and mentally challenging, hiking up mountainsides in the rain and hail, being snowed on one day and sweating in the heat the next, but it was worth every unpredictable minute. I feel so privileged to explore the beautiful, rugged wilderness of the Grampians National Park and to have encountered so many remarkable species. The Parks Victoria staff provided a wealth of logistical and emotional support. It’s great to know that our parks are in such capable hands and that the Smoky Mice of the Victoria Range are thriving in spite of the fires.

Links:

MV Blog: Smoky Mice in the Grampians

Smoky mice in the Grampians

Author
by Phoebe Burns
Publish date
31 May 2013
Comments
Comments (3)

Phoebe is a University of Melbourne Masters student supervised by Dr. Kevin Rowe at MV. She is studying post-fire distribution and ecology of the Smoky Mouse in the Grampians National Park

Smoky Mouse Smoky Mouse, Pseudomys fumeus. Grampians, November 2012.
Image: David Paul
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The Smoky Mouse (Pseudomys fumeus) is an elusive and endangered rodent native to southeast Australia. Historically, the Grampians in western Victoria have been home to healthy populations of the mouse, though years can pass without observations of the species. During the November 2012 Museum Victoria Bioscan, we found a large population of Smoky Mice in the Victoria Range in the west of the Grampians; an amazing find as the mouse had not been detected in such high numbers since the 1980s!

In February 2013 a wildfire burnt through 35,000 hectares of the Grampians, including 80 per cent of the Victoria Range and the locations we surveyed in November. While such a large fire raised concerns about the survival of the Smoky Mouse population, we’re using the opportunity to understand how the species responds to fire. So far things are looking promising: earlier this month we found evidence of rodent activity in a small sheltered patch in the middle of a burnt gully and the vegetation is regenerating well. Excitingly, Parks Victoria staff have detected Smoky Mice on cameras in the southern end of the Victoria Range.

Fire has shaped the communities of plants and animals that live in the Grampians, but we still have so much to learn about the role it plays in the lives of our native rodents. Regular burns are essential to the reproduction of some plant species, which in turn provide habitat for our animal species. The Smoky Mouse relies on specific plant communities to provide food and shelter; fire is necessary to ‘reset’ these plant communities to prevent them growing to a point where they are no longer suitable for the mouse. However, fire is best delivered in a patchy mosaic, allowing animals to live in unburnt areas while adjacent burnt areas regenerate and the plant community returns to a suitable state. Wide-scale fires like the one in February are not ideal, and we’re eager to learn what impact it may have on the native fauna.

We’re hopeful that the Smoky Mouse is living in unburnt patches throughout and around the burnt areas. Over time the Smoky Mouse will recolonise the recently burnt areas and we’ll be able to map the movement of the species across the landscape using genetic techniques. In the short term, I will be hiking around the Grampians monitoring the progress of the Smoky Mouse over the next year. I hope to learn where the mouse is persisting and how the species responds to fire in order to help plan management techniques to ensure the conservation of the species for generations to come.

  Smoky Mouse Smoky Mouse, Pseudomys fumeus. Grampians, November 2012.
Image: David Paul
Source: Museum Victoria

Links:

YouTube video: Moth hunting at the Grampians

MV Blog: Gallery of the Grampians survey

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