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A test of the vegetation mosaic hypothesis: A hypothesis to explain the decline and extinction of Australian mammals

Short, J. and Turner, B. (1994) A test of the vegetation mosaic hypothesis: A hypothesis to explain the decline and extinction of Australian mammals. Conservation Biology, 8 (2). pp. 439-449.

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The vegetation mosaic hypothesis suggests that medium-sized mammals occupying arid and semi-arid areas of Australia require a habitat that is a fine-grained mosaic of different vegetation types or seral stages. This mosaic is believed to have been created in the spinifex deserts of central Australia by Aboriginal burning practices. Its loss in the period 1940–1960 is postulated to be a primary reason for both major reductions in range and mainland extinctions of many species of medium-sized mammals at this time. This study measured the responses of three species of medium-sized mammals to vegetation patterns within spinifex grasslands that ranged from comparatively uniform to highly diverse. The abundance, condition, and reproductive status of golden bandicoots (Isoodon auratus), northern brush-tailed possums (Trichosurus vulpecula arnhemensis), and burrowing bettongs (Bettongia lesueur) were assessed within vegetation mosaics of various scales on Barrow Island, off the northwest coast of Australia. Scale of mosaic proved to have no significant effect on the numbers, condition, or reproductive status of any of the three species. Similarly, the creation of fine-grained mosaics of early seral-stage vegetation mixed within climax vegetation by extensive oil-field operations over nearly half the island had no significant effect on the number or condition of animals. Hence, scale of mosaic seems unlikely to be related to the mainland decline or extinction of these species. The pattern of decline and extinction on the mainland but continued survival on offshore islands is more consistent with the presence (mainland) or absence (islands) of introduced predators (foxes and cats) and herbivores (rabbits and stock).

Item Type: Journal Article
Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell
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