Behavioural investigations and habitat use by the northern hairy-nosed wombat (Lasiorhinus krefftii) at Richard Underwood Nature Refuge
thesisposted on 17.04.2018, 00:00 by Kristina JorgensenKristina Jorgensen
One of the world’s most endangered mammals, the northern hairy-nosed wombat (Lasiorhinus krefftii), is geographically restricted to Epping Forest National Park (EFNP) (Johnson, 1991) where a population of approximately 200 wombats resides (Taylor, 2013). However, to secure the species, an insurance population of ten individuals has been established at Richard Underwood Nature Refuge (RUNR) near St George, within the species former range. The Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (EHP) has an ongoing management program for the northern hairy-nosed wombat at both locations and this study presented an opportunity to explore trapping techniques, habitat utilisation and behavioural investigations of the wombat. The study was based at RUNR, investigating the translocated population. This is the first study to investigate habitat utilisation and behavioural patterns of northern hairy-nosed wombats outside EFNP. Habitat utilisation of wombats at RUNR was investigated based on vegetation assessments, vegetation mapping of the park and wombat activity in different vegetation communities. Over a sampling period of six months, sightings of wombats were highest in the open woodland vegetation community with wombat activity influenced more by overstorey density than understorey density. Wombat sightings were generally low. The study showed no significant environmental parameters influencing temporal patterns of wombat activity; however, day temperature was the most explanatory factor (P=0.194). Behaviour was explored using trail cameras deployed by EHP at burrow entrances. Both solitary and social events were recorded; however, social events accounted for only 0.31% of total observations. There was a high use of burrows by multiple wombats; however, rarely at the same time. It is suggested that wombats actively adapt an avoidance strategy at and near burrow entrances as indicated by the very low occurrence of social interaction. The study showed a general consistency of core habitat structure, and behavioural patterns, with what has previously been observed at EFNP. Wombat activity is focused in specific vegetation structures, which limits the wombat distribution throughout the park. This study utilised behavioural classifications of northern hairy-nosed wombats, and is only the second study to explore behaviour of the species, and the first to use a non-invasive method that has been demonstrated to be effective and labour efficient. This study explores some of the knowledge gaps in a critically endangered mammal by adaptation of a non-invasive sampling method. It clarifies the importance of known habitat utilisation in terms of establishment of a new population, and interspecific behaviour to accommodate for size, burrow use and species management for a potential second translocation site.