The Conservation and Wildlife Research Trust has provided $10,000 in support to the Phillip Island Nature Parks Eastern Barred Bandicoot recovery project.
The mainland Eastern Barred Bandicoot (EBB) is returning from the brink of extinction, thanks to the hard work of the EBB Recovery Team and the community of Phillip Island. These little marsupials are classified as extinct in the wild, with breeding populations maintained in fenced enclosures and in captivity. Beyond the protection of these reserves, predation by foxes and the loss of almost its entire native habitat, have driven the species to almost extinction. Phillip Island Nature Parks is playing an important role in ensuring that a population can thrive on a newly recognised fox-free Phillip Island.
Researchers from Phillip Island Nature Parks, Zoos Victoria and the Eastern Barred Bandicoot Recovery Team, accompanied by local members of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community, released more than 60 individuals onto the Summerland Peninsula in October 2017. Located at the western tip of Phillip Island, this area is well known as the site of major conservation activities, as it was rehabilitated from a former housing estate to a natural environment. It is now home to a thriving colony of little penguins, migratory short-tailed shearwaters and, if this release proves successful long term, Eastern Barred Bandicoots (EBBs).
Prior to this EBB release, a trial introduction was conducted on Churchill Island (off the coast of Phillip Island) in 2015, to evaluate the suitability of local island conditions and to demonstrate to the community what they might expect from an EBB release. From the initial introduction of 20 EBBs, this population increased to about 120 individuals in 2 years and has stabilised around this number. The EBBs have made a positive impact on the island, by reducing soil compaction and improving nutrient and water infiltration, with no observed negative effects.
Getting to know the EBBs allows us to appreciate what it was like before the presence of foxes and feral cats, when all of our native wildlife was running around and existing in natural habitats. EBBs have distinctive stripes on their back but may be difficult to spot; the only sign of their presence you might find during the day is their small foraging digs. They live a solitary, secretive life, feeding in open grasslands at night and resting in a shallow, cryptic nest during the day, usually in areas containing trees or shrubs.
Phillip Island Nature Parks is closely monitoring the establishment of EBBs on Phillip Island and the key threats that they face. Researchers conduct regular live trapping of EBBs to estimate population density, survival rates, breeding success and health status. Samples on blood are collected to monitor genetic diversity, a key indicator of success, and monitor Toxoplasmosis, a disease known to be spread into the environment by feral cats, and one that can kill EBBs. Some bandicoots will also be fitted with tiny radio-transmitters to follow their fate at significant times of year, and follow their dispersal from the release site. An array of motion sensitive camera traps will also monitor the dispersal of EBBs across the landscape, as well as keep an eye on the activity of feral cats, the key remaining predator that threatens the successful establishment of EBBs on Phillip Island.
Saving the EBB is an extraordinary example of successful partnerships, with the EBB recovery team comprised of representatives from: Conservation Volunteers Australia, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP), Mt Rothwell Biodiversity Interpretation Centre, National Trust of Australia, Parks Victoria, Phillip Island Nature Parks, the University of Melbourne, Tiverton Property Partnering and Zoos Victoria. Support from the Phillip Island and local Indigenous communities has also made this conservation outcome possible.
This is a bold and an exciting moment in the recovery of this species as we see if we really can build large, self-sustaining populations on fox-free islands, an achievement that could secure this species and perhaps even remove it from the endangered species list.
Support from the Conservation and Wildlife Research Trust will contribute towards the vital monitoring program that will address the research objectives and evaluate the indicators of success of the program as listed below.
The release of EBBs to Phillip Island has the following research objectives:
1) Evaluate whether Mainland Australia EBBs can establish and persist in the presence of feral cats. Foxes are known to limit the success of translocations of EBBs, yet the role of cat predation and disease is uncertain (Groenewegen 2014). Tasmanian EBBs persist in the presence of feral cats. This will inform the prospect of success of translocations of EBBs to other sites that are free of foxes, but have a feral cat population (e.g. French Island).
2) Identify the relationship between EBB population growth rate and cat abundance.
3) Identify the relationship between EBB population growth rate and the prevalence of Toxoplasmosis gondii, a disease that can be fatal to bandicoots; cats are the definitive host of the disease.
4) To measure the level of genetic variation of the population over time to see if large islands can arrest the taxon-wide decline in heterozygosity.
The indicators of success are:
– A founder survival rate of ≥50% after 3 months
– A founder survival rate of ≥35% after 6 months
– 80% of monitored females have produced pouch young 12 months after release
– New individuals enter the trappable population 12 months after the translocation
– >50% population increase within 2 years after the translocation
– No significant loss of genetic diversity (as measured by heterozygosity and allelic diversity) after 2 years
– Founder contribution (Ne) is > 50% (measured after 2 years)