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Bandicoots at Munibung Hill

PICTURE: Sites where secondary evidence of bandicoots were observed. Credit: Christie Malyon

Study confirms the presence of Bandicoots at Munibung Hill
Christie Malyon was one of three University of Newcastle Summer Scholarship Research Project students who spent time at Munibung Hill over the Summer vacation period.

Christie has documented her research findings in a report titled: Identyfing Presence and Habitat Usage of Bandicoots within the Munibung Hill Management Area, Lake Macquarie NSW. (C.Malyon, 2023). To illustrate what Christie discovered, here are some extracts from her research …
‘ECOSYTEM ENGINEER’ is an epithet synonymous with the bandicoot, with this moniker linked to the species’ bioturbation foraging method. Higher rates of seedling recruitment have been recorded across bandicoot foraging pit spoil, with those seedlings exhibiting taller, thicker, and faster growth when compared to undug soil (Valentine et al., 2017; Valentine et al., 2018).

This facilitation of seedling growth, via bandicoot bioturbation, can be linked to biodiffusion of sedimentary particles leading to increased moisture and phosphorus levels within the spoil soil, as well as the creation of favourable micro-environments within foraging pits that promote litter and nutrient decomposition (Valentine et al., 2017; Valentine et al., 2018). Ecosystem engineers, specifically digging mammals like bandicoots, are thus key to the revitalisation of degraded ecosystems as they promote increased biodiversity via seedling recruitment, and ecosystem functioning through improved plant fitness and resilience (Fleming et al., 2014).

Munibung Hill has undergone historical land degradation from livestock grazing to gravel quarrying, with extensive regeneration efforts in more recent times. Bandicoot ecosystem engineering has the potential to naturally complement these efforts and restore a higher level of ecosystem function.

While plots with bandicoot evidence were themselves generally low in weediness, they were located within a matrix of surrounding higher weediness. Lantana (Lantana camara) and pampas grass (Cortaderia selloana) were the dominant weed species recorded across all sites. Radio tracking studies of the northern brown bandicoot have shown that heavy infestation of invasive species, including lantana and tall grasses, are selected by bandicoots as favourable nesting and foraging habitat (FitzGibbon et al., 2011).

This is a potential area of consideration for further restorative practices within the Munibung Hill Managment Area (MHMA). Complete removal of lantana thickets has been negatively associated with the presence of small native birds, including the superb fairy wren, as lantana has been identified as an important habitat feature within urbanised areas (Parsons et al., 2008). Similarly, bandicoots are positively associated with areas of high lantana presence on Munibung Hill, therefore staged removal of lantana, with simultaneous replace-ment by appropriate dense native substitutes, is recommended to avoid negative impacts on the local population. (Editor’s emphasis).

TO CONCLUDE: This study can confidently confirm the presence of bandicoots within the MHMA and these ecosystem engineers have the potential to positively promote the biodiversity of Munibung Hill through their bioturbation behaviour. Bandicoots are capable of complementing further on-ground restoration efforts, as their digging increases seedling recruitment through the creation of favourable conditions within their foraging pits. Habitat corridor maintenance is recommended between the northern and southern sections of MHMA to ensure adequate patch connectivity, with the positive correlation between bandicoot presence and a matrix of high quality and weedy habitat considered regarding further restoration projects.

(More pictures in the magazine)

MMM … Issue 38, June – July 2023