Behavioural ecology of the greater bilby (Macrotis lagotis) and conservation tool development in a semi-wild sanctuary

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Copyright: Cornelsen, Kate
Conservation translocations are becoming an increasingly necessary tool to stem the decline of threatened species globally. The greater bilby (Macrotis lagotis) is a nationally threatened species in Australia. While bilby translocations are expected to contribute to the species’ persistence, the scarcity of information on their behaviour and ecology prevents informed-management. By intensively studying a population of bilbies both prior to, and following reintroduction, and subsequent reinforcements to a fenced sanctuary, I aimed to (1) advance knowledge of bilby behaviour and examine behaviours potentially relevant to fitness (i.e. survival and breeding success), (2) improve ecological knowledge of bilbies within understudied (temperate) climates, and (3) use this knowledge to suggest and develop effective tools for their conservation. Chapter 1 describes the current state of research in applied conservation research, and how increased behavioural data could help address some of the current knowledge gaps for bilby conservation. In Chapter 2, I examined patterns in bilby resource selection, finding that selection changed between seasons and years due to the environmental conditions and resources available. I also found that resource requirements are likely to be behavioural-state dependent and sex-specific. In Chapter 3, I constructed social networks to examine nocturnal proximity of bilbies and concurrent burrow sharing and found that associations were non-random. Expanding on this, in Chapter 4, I found that burrow sharing was likely to help describe breeding strategies, as males strongly avoided other males, and mixed-sex dyads exhibited kin-avoidance when mate choice was more limited. In Chapter 5, I developed a test to screen personality traits in bilbies, finding links between male response to handling and relative breeding success post-release. Lastly, in Chapter 6, I described a method to collect detailed movement data on the bilby, and discussed some of the practical and animal welfare constraints for its application. My thesis provides new insights into the behavioural ecology of the bilby with potential implications for future management of the species. With further translocations necessary for long-term persistence of the bilby, this research is highly relevant to current and future management of this ecologically important species, with potential applications to other similarly at-risk species.
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PhD Doctorate
UNSW Faculty