The health of red gum forests in southern NSW is improving with recent monitoring showing a growing population of yellow-footed antechinus at home on the floodplains.
Monitoring conducted by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) has led to the discovery of more than 20 individuals at sites within the Murray red gum forests – a sign that the forest and floodplains are healthy and maintaining a dynamic food web.
The monitoring is part of an ongoing NPWS program, and follows environmental watering managed by the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH).
NPWS Senior Rehabilitation Officer Rick Webster said the presence of these small marsupials was a good indicator of ecosystem health.
Antechinus are an important part of the food web, Mr Webster said.
“They feed on insects and spiders and become food themselves for larger predators such as owls and goannas. In this case, environmental watering mid-way through last year has triggered a sharp rise in the number of insects and spiders within the forest. The antechinus feed on these bugs and begin to breed. As the antechinus population rises, larger predators move into the area.
“It’s a dynamic system that reflects the health and vitality of the plants and animals that form part of the food web,” he said.
In 2011, the presence of small ground-dwelling mammals led to the first-ever authenticated sighting of a masked owl in the Millewa group of forests.
Antechinus were once common across the landscape but are now largely confined to forested areas where they have some protection from land clearing and introduced predators such as cats.
These small native marsupials are often mistaken for mice, and while similar in appearance, they behave quite differently. They are carnivorous with a poorly developed pouch. The males live for only 12 months – just long enough to mate before dying.
Yellow-footed antechinus (Antechinus flavipes) profile:
The yellow-footed antechinus is usually grey/brown in colour with a white eye-ring, comparatively long tail and yellow feet, hence the name. It has a pointed muzzle with a body length ranging from 10 to 13 cm. It eats insects, spiders, eggs, nectar and occasionally small vertebrates.
Populations are scattered from Queensland, through NSW and into Victoria.