Spotted-tailed quoll spatial ecology in South East Queensland

Background

All of Australia’s marsupial carnivore fauna have declined in distribution and/or abundance since European settlement (Jones et al. 2014). The endangered South East mainland spotted-tailed quoll Dasyurus maculatus maculatus is the largest marsupial carnivore remaining on the mainland (Belcher 2004). It was once widely distributed and occupied a variety of habitat types (Maxwell et al. 1996). However, it is thought to have declined severely in Victoria and NSW in the last decade so that it survives in only a few strongholds such as the Snowy Mountains and the northern tablelands of NSW (Glen and Dickman 2011). It is possible that locations in South East Queensland are crucial last mainland strongholds for this threatened species, but we do not have current information on the distribution and abundance of spotted-tailed quolls in South East Queensland (Watt 1993). Previous estimates suggest that South East Queensland populations may have undergone a range contraction in excess of 30% (Maxwell et al. 1996). The main causes of spotted-tailed quoll decline in South-East Queensland are likely habitat loss, fragmentation and modification, although introduced species such as red foxes Vulpes vulpes and cane toads Rhinella marina are also implicated (Watt 1993). 

Aims

  • Determine the role of introduced species and habitat change in the decline of spotted-tailed quoll populations in South East Queensland
  • Identify the current distribution and the most important places for conservation management of spotted-tailed quolls in South East Queensland
  • Determine if access to high-quality habitat limits the distribution and abundance of spotted-tailed quoll populations at the local habitat scale
  • Examine the fine-scale movement and activity of spotted-tailed quolls in relation to introduced predators and habitat modification

Methodology

The past distribution (at intervals from the first historical records) of spotted-tailed quolls will be modelled to assess the spatial trajectory of decline. Citizen science will provide information on quoll sightings in the last two years. Extensive camera trapping will be undertaken in a subset of locations suspected to be strongholds of spotted-tailed quoll populations in South East Queensland to determine whether or not quolls are present. At each camera trap site, a habitat complexity score will be recorded, along with the distribution of available water, elevation and presence of introduced species. The current distribution of spotted-tailed quolls will be mapped based on camera trap data, available GIS layers and the probability of site occupancy in relation to broad habitat types and topography.

The fine-scale movement and activity of spotted-tailed quolls will be tracked using GPS collars and accelerometers over two consecutive years within a landscape thought to support an abundant spotted-tailed quoll population. The location of key foraging areas and dens will be located in the field from tracking data and local-scale abiotic and biotic factors influencing movement and den selection will be recorded. The presence of introduced predators at the local habitat scale will be determined using baited camera traps.

 

Spotted-tailed quoll

Expected outcomes

This research will determine habitat factors essential for persistence that can be protected or restored to ensure the conservation of endangered spotted-tailed quolls in South East Queensland. The identification of threatening processes that act at local and landscape scales is an essential part of this research and will be vital for mitigating risks to populations across their current range. 

References

Belcher, C 2004, ‘The largest surviving marsupial carnivore on mainland Australia: the Tiger or Spotted-tailed Quoll Dasyurus maculatus, a nationally threatened, forest-dependent species’, in D Lunney (ed), Conservation of Australia’s Forest Fauna (second edition), Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales, Mosman, NSW, pp. 612-623.

Glen, AS & Dickman, CR 2011, ‘Why are there so many Spotted-tailed Quolls Dasyurus maculatus in parts of north-eastern NSW?’, Australian Zoologist, vol. 35, no. 3, pp. 711-718.

Jones, ME, Burnett, S, Claridge, AW, Fancourt, B, Kortner, G, Morris, K, Peacock, D, Troy, S & Woinarski, J 2014, ‘Australia’s surviving marsupial carnivores: threats and conservation’, in AS Glen and CR Dickman (eds), Carnivores of Australia: Past, Present and Future, CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, VIC, pp. 197-240.

Maxwell, S, Burbidge, AA & Morris, K 1996, ‘Spotted-tailed Quoll (SE mainland and Tas); recovery outline, in Environment Australia (ed), The Action Plan for Australian Marsupials and Monotremes, Canberra, ACT, pp. 85-87.

Watt, A 1993, ‘Conservation status and draft management plan for Dasyurus maculatus and D. hallucatus in southern Queensland, Department of Environment and Heritage, Queensland.

Acknowledgements

Australian Government Research Training Scholarship

Hidden Vale Wildlife Centre Conservation Top Up Scholarship

Hidden Vale Wildlife Project Research Support Funding

Project members

Picture of Kellie Goodhew

Kellie Goodhew

PhD Candidate
The University of Queensland

Dr Megan Brady

Ecology and Conservation Manager
The Turner Family Foundation
Picture of Diana Fisher

Associate Professor Diana Fisher

Associate Professor
School of Biological Sciences
Picture of April Reside

Dr April Reside

Research Fellow
School of Earth and Environmental Sciences
Picture of Scott Burnett

Dr Scott Burnett

Lecturer
University of the Sunshine Coast