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Population ecology of the nectar-feeding squirrel glider (Petaurus norfolcensis) in remnant forest in subtropical Australia

David Sharpe, Southern Cross University
Ross L. Goldingay, Southern Cross University

Abstract

Context. Nectar is a temporally variable food resource. However, because few studies describe the population dynamics of nectar-feeding non-flying mammals, it is unclear how such populations are influenced by resource availability. Aims. We investigated the population ecology of the squirrel glider (Petaurus norfolcensis) in remnant forest in Brisbane, Australia, where nectar was a dominant food item. Methods. We used 36 tree-mounted traps to census a squirrel glider population inhabiting a 47-ha urban remnant over a 4-year period. Key results. A total of 201 gliders was captured 705 times in 3729 trap-nights (19% trap success). Population density peaked in the first year at ~1.6 individuals ha–1, and declined down to ~0.5 individuals ha–1 by the final year. This change in population density appeared to be mediated by annual variation in flowering intensity. Births occurred from March to November, peaking between April and July. All females >1 year old bred in each year of the study, with a mean litter size of 1.7 (n = 122). The overall natality rate was 1.9, indicating that females occasionally bred twice per year. The sex ratio was at parity in the pouch and in the trappable population. Gliders first entered the trappable population at 4 months of age, and persisted for a mean of 32 months. The maximum longevity was at least 6 years. Conclusions. The demographic characteristics of this squirrel glider population within remnant forest surrounded by urban development were similar to those reported elsewhere. Variation in nectar availability appears to have a substantial influence on the dynamics of squirrel glider populations. Implications. The substantial variation in population size driven by food availability raises concerns regarding the viability of small populations of nectarivorous non-flying mammals inhabiting remnant habitat.

Suggested Citation

Sharpe, D & Goldingay, RL 2010, 'Population ecology of the nectar-feeding squirrel glider (Petaurus norfolcensis) in remnant forest in subtropical Australia', Wildlife Research, vol. 37, no. 2, pp. 77-88.

The publisher's version of this article is available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/WR09051

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