An invasive tree facilitates the persistence of native rodents on an over-grazed floodplain in tropical Australia

Georgia Ward-Fear*, Gregory P. Brown, David J. Pearson, Richard Shine

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

In an ecosystem under simultaneous threat from multiple alien species, one invader may buffer the impact of another. Our surveys on a remote floodplain in the Kimberley region of north western Australia show that invasive chinee apple trees (Ziziphus mauritiana) provide critical refuge habitat for native rodents (pale field rats, Rattus tunneyi). Feral horses (Equus caballus) have trampled most of the remaining floodplain, but are excluded from the area around each chinee apple tree by thorny foliage. Although chinee apple trees constituted <10% of trees along our transects, they represented >50% of trees that harboured rat burrows. The mean number of burrows under each chinee apple tree was twice as high as under most other tree species, and we trapped more than seven times as many rats under chinee apple trees as under other types of trees. The extensive burrow systems under chinee apple trees contained female as well as male rats, whereas we only captured males around the smaller burrow systems under other tree species. Our data suggest that this invasive tree plays a critical role in the persistence of pale field rat populations in this degraded ecosystem, and that managers should maintain these trees (despite their alien origins) at least until feral horses have been removed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)385-393
Number of pages9
JournalAustral Ecology
Volume42
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2017
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Equus caballus
  • facilitation
  • habitat modification
  • invasive species
  • Rattus
  • Ziziphus mauritiana

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