Habitat selection by the common wombat (Vombatus ursinus) in disturbed environments: Implications for the conservation of a 'common' species

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Abstract
The construction of habitat models is a repeatable technique for describing and mapping species distributions, the utility of which lies in enabling management to predict where a species is likely to occur within a landscape. Typically, habitat models have been used to establish habitat requirements for threatened species; however they have equal applicability for modelling local populations of common species. Often, few data exist on local populations of common species, and issues of abundance and habitat selection at varying scales are rarely addressed. We provide a habitat suitability model for the common wombat (Vombatus ursinus) in southern New South Wales. This species is currently perceived as abundant throughout its extensive range across temperate regions of eastern Australia, yet little factual survey data exist and populations appear under threat. We use wombat burrows to reflect habitat selection and as our basis for ecological modelling. We found that environmental variables representing proximity to cover, measures of vegetation and proximity to watercourses are important predictors of burrow presence. Extrapolation of habitat models identified an abundance of habitat suitable for burrows. However, burrows in many suitable areas were abandoned. Our estimate of the population size was similar to the total annual mortality associated with road-kill. Theoretically, given the availability of suitable habitat, common wombat populations in the region should be thriving. It seems likely that this area once supported a much higher number of wombats; however limiting factors such as road mortality and disease have reduced the populations. The persistence of wombats in the study region must be supported by migration from other populations. Our findings challenge the perception that wombats are currently common and not in need of monitoring, suggesting that perceptions of abundance are often clouded by socio-political motives rather than informed by biological and ecological factors.
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Author(s)
Roger, Katherine
Laffan, Shawn
Ramp, Daniel
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Publication Year
2007
Resource Type
Journal Article
Degree Type
UNSW Faculty