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Smoky mice in the Grampians

Author
by Phoebe Burns
Publish date
31 May 2013
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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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