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Fauna assemblages of the spinifex sand plains in central Australia : response to climate, fire and predation

Molyneux, Jenny (2017). Fauna assemblages of the spinifex sand plains in central Australia : response to climate, fire and predation. Doctor of Philosophy Thesis, Charles Darwin University.

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Author Molyneux, Jenny
Title Fauna assemblages of the spinifex sand plains in central Australia : response to climate, fire and predation
Institution Charles Darwin University
Publication Date 2017-06
Thesis Type Doctor of Philosophy
Supervisor Carthew, Susan M.
Abstract Australia’s arid zone is one of the most unique desert regions in the world due to its dominance across the continent, distinctive rainfall patterns, low soil nutrients and unique faunal assemblage. Drivers of faunal assemblages are varied, with rainfall, fire and predators considered most influential. The aim of this study was to identify the drivers of fauna persistence following a period of high rainfall and to refine management strategies in the spinifex sand plains of central Australia, with particular reference to the brush-tailed mulgara, Dasycercus blythi. I utilised broad scale fauna monitoring to assess the effect of environmental factors on persistence generally and conducted a detailed assessment of the fine-scale habitat use by D. blythi. I further compared the efficacy of three popular monitoring techniques utilised in the region.

This study revealed large mammalian predators were most influential in predicting the occurrence of small mammals and reptile assemblages, whilst rainfall and temperature were most influential for invertebrates. The distribution of D. blythi populations contracted spatially during periods of low rainfall to areas of potential refuge. Fine scale habitat use indicating access to food resources was more influential than selecting areas with low exposure to predators. Infrared cameras sampled the broadest range of species and were the most cost effective over time, whilst sign surveys were most cost effective short term and live trapping essential in detecting several specific species.

Overall, these findings inform land managers on the importance of gaining a better understanding of the invertebrate fauna in the region and implementing effective predator control during periods of low rainfall. By targeting management to specific areas of refuge land managers could reduce financial costs whilst maintaining support for key species, such as D. blythi. Land managers would further benefit from implementing a greater variety of monitoring techniques to maximise the effectiveness of monitoring both financially and statistically.

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