Conservation ecology of Sharman’s rock-wallaby
University of Queensland
Mammal species that shelter in rocky refuges are likely protected to some degree from the threats driving the decline of Australia’s northern mammals (altered fire regimes, introduced predators and grazing). However, little is known about how rock-dependent mammals respond to disturbances such as fire, and species-specific data is crucial to ensure appropriate management plans are developed.
Sharman’s rock-wallaby (Petrogale sharmani) is a small (~4kg) mammal restricted to a tiny geographic range in north Queensland. The entire population is considered to be fewer than 800 animals. It is not known how many Sharman’s rock-wallabies typically inhabit a rocky outcrop; how far individuals move away from their shelter sites when foraging at night (or when dispersing to new locations); the extent of predation by feral cats and wild dogs; or how individuals and colonies respond to fires.
This project is the first comprehensive ecological study undertaken on Sharman’s rock-wallaby. By investigating its population demographics by estimating colony size and obtaining birth and death rates, and examining the spatial and temporal presence of competitors (other macropods) and predators at P. sharmani colonies, the conservation status of this species can be better understood.
This study will provide a much-needed estimate of the population size of P. sharmani, allowing for the evaluation of its appropriate conservation status (currently vulnerable in Queensland) and providing a more comprehensive understanding of the species’ distribution and movement patterns, particularly on the Mount Zero-Taravale nature sanctuary. This will allow the determination of which rocky sites on the sanctuary should be prioritised for predator and fire management.
This research will gather important data on the spatial and temporal activity patterns of the rock-wallabies and potential predators of rock-wallabies, such as feral cats and wild dogs, allowing for targeted recommendations regarding predator control on the sanctuary.
By examining the short-term response of rock-wallabies to fire at both an individual (through GPS collaring) and a colony scale (through mark-recapture and remote-sensing/modelling methods), this study will provide recommendations on the appropriate temporal and spatial scale for patchwork burning to be undertaken by the sanctuary manager.