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Mammals of Australian islands: factors influencing species richness

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Distribution patterns of indigenous non-volant terrestrial mammals on 257 Australian islands were examined in relation to environmental parameters and the effects of human-induced disturbance during prehistoric and historic times on island species numbers. Species occurrence for individual species, for taxonomic and trophic groups, and for all species together was related to environmental parameters using regression analysis and the extreme-value function model. Patterns of occurrence were examined separately within three major biogeographic regions derived by pattern analysis. The number of species known to have occurred on these islands during historic times was adequately predicted from area alone. No statistically significant improvement in predicted species number was gained by including island elevation, mean annual rainfall, isolation from the mainland or the number of potentially competing species present on the island. Similarly, no single factor other than area was found to influence consistently the presence of individual species. We conclude that the occurrence of indigenous non-volant terrestrial mammal species on these islands indicates a relictual rather than equilibrial fauna. Visitation by Aboriginal people during prehistoric times did not significantly increase mammal extinctions on islands. Examination of patterns of species richness for a given area on a regional basis showed that islands in and around Bass Strait and Tasmania (Bass Region) were the most species-rich, islands off the northern coasts were slightly less rich, and islands off the south western coasts had fewest species. This is in contrast to the usual latitudinal gradient in species richness patterns. However, islands off the northern and eastern coasts had an overall greater number of different species. When considered in relation to the number of different species of mammals occurring within each region, islands of a given size in Bass Region typically bore a higher proportion of this species pool than other regions. The Bass Region was found to be particularly rich in macropoid herbivores and dasyurid carnivores and insectivores. Analyses indicated that there is a very strong relationship between the presence of exotics as a whole and the local extinction of native mammals. Many mammal species formerly widespread on the Australian mainland are now restricted totally to islands (nine species) or are threatened with extinction on the mainland and have island populations of conservation significance (ten species). In all, thirty-five islands protect eighteen taxa of Australian threatened mammals. The land-use and management of these islands is of considerable importance to nature conservation. The introduction of exotic mammals to these islands should be prevented; any introductions that occur should be eradicated immediately.
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Keywords: Australian islands; Island mammals; extreme-value function; island management; mammal extinctions; species–area relationship

Document Type: Original Article

Publication date: 1997-01-01

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