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The effects of fragmentation and disturbance of rainforest on ground‐dwelling small mammals on the Robertson Plateau, New South Wales, Australia

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We surveyed ground‐dwelling small mammals in twenty‐four rainforest remnants which were virtual islands surrounded by farmland on a plateau on the east coast of Australia. We investigated the effect of island size, level of disturbance, isolation and microhabitat on the abundance and species richness of the mammals. The remnants ranged from 0.3 to 29 ha, resulting from fragmentation during 175 years of European occupation. Two rodent species (Rattus fuscipes[Waterhouse, 1839] and R. rattus[Linnaeus, 1758] ) and one marsupial insectivore (Antechinus stuartii Macleay, 1841) were trapped in these remnants, with an additional species (A. swainsonii[Waterhouse, 1840] ) several kilometres away in rainforest on the escarpment of the plateau. Small‐mammal species richness was low, but the native species (R. fuscipes and A. stuartii) were abundant. Three‐way analyses of variance demonstrated that species richness and abundance decreased significantly with decreasing remnant size and increasing disturbance, but showed no distance effect. The abundance and richness of native species responded even more significantly. The interaction between the first two effects is important. Small remnants are affected most detrimentally by increasing disturbance, large remnants are less affected, and medium sized remnants show intermediate effects. The introduced R. rattus which was least abundant in large remnants, but more abundant in distant than near remnants, was also more abundant in those with major disturbance. The single most important variable in step‐wise, multiple linear regression analyses was the logarithm of remnant area not influenced by edge effects, explaining 39% of the variance in species richness, 57% for native species richness and 46% for A. stuartii abundance. Disturbance related variables additionally contributed from 12 to 30% of the variance in dependent variables, while habitat variables explained between 22 and 48% of the variance, and accounted for two thirds of the explainable variance in R. fuscipes abundance. The implications of our results for wildlife conservation on the plateau are discussed.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: School of Biological Science, University of New South Wales, P.O. Box 1, Kensington, N.S.W., 2033, Australia

Publication date: 1996-03-01

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