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Mountain Pygmy-possum recovery in the Victorian Alps

Meet Burramys, the Mountain Pygmy-possum...

Thought to be extinct until the 1960’s, one of Australia’s only hibernating marsupials, making its home close to mountain peaks, the Mountain Pygmy-possum (Burranys parvus) is extraordinary in many ways;

 

  • It is one of the smallest Australian possums
  • It is endemic to the alpine and subalpine regions of south-eastern Australia    
  • It does not live in trees, but in the boulderfields and rock screes
  • The Mountain Pygmy-possum enjoys a diet made up of over 50% arthropods, especially Bogong Moths (Agrotis infusa) in spring and summer
  • And, whilst thousands of people are enjoying the alpine snowfields, the Mountain Pygmy-possum is hibernating, asleep under the snow in rock crevices
  • There is estimated to be only be some 2,000 adult Mountain Pygmy-possums remaining in the wild. 

The total population of Mountain Pygmy-possum is found only in Kosciuszko National Park in New South Wales and Mt Buller and Mt Bogong across to Mt Higginbotham in Victoria. These three groups are effectively isolated from one another by low elevation valleys containing unsuitable habitat for the species, essentially creating ‘islands in the sky’.

Each one of these populations of the Mountain Pygmy-possum are critically important to the survival of the species and its adaptive potential.

How this project aims to help the Mountain Pygmy-possum recover and thrive

This five year project is guided closely by the National Recovery Plan for the species and is delivered in partnership between North East CMA and Parks Victoria, Mount Hotham Alpine Resort Management Board, Falls Creek Alpine Resort Management Board and Traditional Owners. Research scientists and DELWP are also involved to ensure we are doing all we can for the species in North East Victoria.

By 2023, the project aims to have contributed to stabilising or increasing the population of Mountain Pygmy-possums in all its North Eastern habitats.    

Project activities that have been designed to help the species recover include:

  • Population monitoring and baseline genetic data collection
  • Weed control to enable recovery of Mountain Plum Pine (Podocarpus lawrencei), a favourite source of food for Mountain Pygmy-possum
  • Revegetating habitat with appropriate species
  • Monitoring & control of pest animal species in Mountain Pygmy-possum habitats
  • Improving specific hydrological regimes, as a method for protecting boulderfields from sedimentation
  • Reconstruction of boulderfields in key locations

Why is the Mountain Pygmy-Possum under threat?

The Mountain Pygmy-possum is listed as endangered under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC 1999). The most significant threats to this species are habitat loss and fragmentation, predation from cats and foxes and the impacts of climate change. Major threats to this species currently include:

  • Loss, degradation and fragmentation of habitat
  • Predation by cats and foxes    
  • Decline in Bogong Moths
  • Weed Invasion and competition from introduced species
  • Erosion and sedimentation
  • Genetic loss and small populations
  • Winter impacts from ski resort operations and snow-sports activity
  • Bushfire and planned fuel hazard reduction burns  
  • Climate Change

Why are Bogong Moths so Important?

Bogong Moths (Agrotis infusa) provide the primary and most abundant food source for Mountain Pygmy-possums, especially in spring and at high elevations. Therefore any threats or actions that substantially reduce numbers of moths in the alpine and subalpine boulderfields are also a threat to the Mountain Pygmy-possum.

Potential threats to Bogong Moths may include further loss of inland native grassland habitat, application of agricultural chemicals in their breeding sites and environmental variation due to climate change, especially increased drought conditions such as in 2018.

 

Key Contacts

 

Mark Cairns, Senior Project Officer Biodiversity  mark.cairns@necma.vic.gov.au

Olivia Kemp, Project Officer Biodiversity olivia.kemp@necma.vic.gov.au

Telephone: 1300 216 513

 

Acknowledgement

This project is supported by the North East Catchment Management Authority, Parks Victoria, Mount Hotham Alpine Resort Management Board, Falls Creek Alpine Resort Management Board and DELWP,  through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program.

 

 

Image credit: Dean Heinze, Ecology Links.