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Pygmy-Possum Burramys Parvus: The Effects of Climate Change Research Paper

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Updated: Mar 27th, 2022

Background

In the recent past, it has come to the attention of wildlife researchers that the consequences occasioned by global climatic variations, such as global warming and related effects, are not just threatening biodiversity, but are challenging both traditional and conventional matrixes of wildlife conservation (Considine, 2011). Indeed, scientists are today, more than ever, struggling to develop viable conservation solutions in a bid to preserve species, whose habitats are fast disappearing under climate change, and who may not be able to adapt to other bioregions (Gorman-Murray, 2009; Hughes, 2003).

One such species, according to Slattery (1997), is the marsupial mountain pygmy-possum Burramys parvus, the only Australian mammal whose natural range and distribution does not extend below the winter snowline. This effectively implies that the species can only survive in Australian alpine and subalpine bioregions as it is entirely dependent on winter snow for hibernation (see fig 1). These bioregions are rare in Australia, comprising only 0.15 percent of the total landmass (Gorman-Murray, 2009), but whose importance in conservation efforts is felt globally. According to this author, “…the significant contraction of this ecosystem means a severe reduction in numbers – and even total loss – of alpine-adapted fauna and flora species endemic to the Alps” (p. 3). Although studies have been done on the effects of climate change on the alpine-adapted ecologies, including that of the mountain pygmy-possums, few studies have ever attempted to evaluate the specific effects of climatic variations on the density and habitat use of this species. Such an evaluation will therefore form the basis of this particular study.

Research Questions

The study will be guided by the following research question: In what ways will the predicted loss of snow cover due to climate change influence the density and habitat use of the mountain pygmy-possum populations in the Australian Alps?

The following will form the sub-questions to the study:

  1. Are the observed variations in climate-related to the marginalization of the mountain pygmy possums’ natural habitat?
  2. How do changes in temperature and precipitation directly affect the density of mountain pygmy-possum populations in the Australian Alps?
Australian Alpine and Subalpine Regions.
Fig 1: Australian Alpine and Subalpine Regions. Source: (Gorman-Murray, 2009).

Study Design

As noted by Morrison et al (2008), “…ecological research projects require well-thought-out questions, adequate sampling, and experimental designs, which ensure the target population is identifiable” (p. 65). In the light of this observation, the proposed study shall use a longitudinal observational research design, with measurements taken during snow-free months and in winter, to study a population of mountain pygmy-possums in alpine and subalpine areas of Kosciuszko National Park, NSW, to establish the effects of climate change on the density and habitat use of this species. According to Johnson (2002), longitudinal observational studies are advantageous in that they are more informative, though they have been accused of lacking the significant component of control by the researcher.

It is imperative to note that this particular study will take three years to complete, from 2012 through to 2014, and will utilize trapping and radio-tracking techniques to observe 60 individuals (mountain pygmy-possums), 35 individuals during the snow-free months and 25 during the winter period. According to NPWRC (2006), the radio-tracking approach “…requires the live-capture of animals and usually the attachment of a collar or other device to them…It then requires someone to listen for a signal from the device periodically” (para. 1). These devices offer endless possibilities in wildlife research, including the ability to locate species with great accuracy and precision (Milllspaugh & Marzluff, 2001). However, they come with high initial costs and employ intrusive methods to collect the data required

The proposed study purposes to use GPS-enabled transmitters, embedded on the radio-tracking device, to collect the requisite data on the mountain pygmy-possums. Being an observational study, the proposed study shall utilize a correlational approach to have a deeper comprehension of the mechanisms that influence phenomena of interest; that is, to evaluate how climate change – the independent variable – influences the density and habitat use of the Mountain Pygmy-Possum in selected areas. Consequently, the density and habitat use of this species become dependent variables. It, therefore, implies that climate change data, such as temperature shifts and precipitations, will be collected from the alpine and the subalpine regions of Kosciuszko National Park, NSW, while data on density, hibernation patterns, and habitat use will be collected from observing the mammals over three years. Some confounding factors that may be put into consideration when researching the mountain pygmy-possums, according to the Australian Government (2010) and Mansergh & Scotts (1989), include the availability of food (Bogong months), wildfires, and being preyed upon by larger predators.

Predicted Results

It is expected that density and habitat use of the mountain pygmy-possums will be strongly correlated with high snow cover, and is expected to change with the season. It is also expected that a slight increase in temperature in the Alps bioregions will be strongly collated with the marginalization of the mountain pygmy possums’ natural habitat. Consequently, a null and alternate hypothesis can be developed from the above discussion:

  • H0: The predicted loss of snow cover due to climate change will not affect the density and habitat use of the mountain pygmy-possum populations in the Australian Alps
  • H1: The predicted loss of snow cover due to climate change will affect the density and habitat use of the mountain pygmy-possum populations in the Australian Alps

List of References

Australian Government Department of Sustainability, environment, water, population and Communities (2010). Burramys parvus, Mountain Pygmy-Possum. Web.

Considine, M.L (2011). Moving on Relocating Species in Response to Climate Change. ECOS, Issue 160, pp 11-13.

Gorman-Murray, A (2009). The Australian Alps and Climate Change. Geodate, Vol. 22, Issue 2, pp 2-5.

Hughes, L (2003). Climate Change and Australia: Trends, Projections and Impacts. Austral Ecology, Vol. 28, Issue 4, pp 423-443.

Johnson, D.H (2002). The Importance of Replication in Wildlife Research. Journal of Wildlife Management, Vol. 66, Issue 4, pp 919-932.

Mansergh, I.M., & Scotts, D.J (1989). Habitat Continuity and Social Organization of the Mountain Pygmy-Possum restored by tunnel. The Journal of Wildlife Management, Vol. 53, Issue 3, pp 701-707.

Millspaugh, J.J., & Marzluff, J.M (2001). Radio Tracking and Animal Populations. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

Morrison, M.L., Block, W.M., Strickland, M.D., Collier, B.A., & Peterson, M.J (2008). Wildlife Study design, 2nd Ed. New York, NY: Springer.

Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center (2006). A Critique of Wildlife Radio Tracking and its Use in National Parks. Web.

Slattery, D (1997). Australian Alps: Kosciuszko, Alpine and Namadgi National Parks. Sydney: UNSW Press.

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