Extinction claims a furry friend

Extinction is forever, but local extinctions offer a second chance,since a species that vanishes from one area may persist in another. Still, they sound a pretty clear warning of environmental distress.

In the Adelaide Hills, close to South Australia's capital, researchers have noted a catastrophic reduction in native birds, with half the woodland species in decline. It seems that they are not alone.

"It is not only the birds that have gone from the Adelaide Hills," said Dr Peter Hornsby. "We have just completed our two-year search for brush-tailed phascogales in the southern Mount Lofty Ranges, without finding any. Furthermore, we also looked in the south-east, around Naracoorte, where the last official sighting occurred in 1967. It is a safe bet all the phascogales have gone; adding another species to South Australia's list of extinctions."

Dr Hornsby is a Visiting Research Fellow in Adelaide University's Department of Psychology. A specialist in the observational studies of behaviour, particularly of rock-wallabies, he has broadened his interests to include other native species. These include phascogales - small, carnivorous marsupials with large bushy tails - the Australian equivalent of tree shrews.

Dr Hornsby's work has come at an opportune time. "The whole of SA is at present being covered by a biodiversity survey," said Dr Hornsby. "It includes plants, mammals, birds, reptiles and some invertebrates," he said.

"The Department for Environment knew of our work, and are keen to incorporate our data into their survey because, while we have been looking for phascogales, we've effectively been sampling arboreal mammals," said Dr Hornsby.

Other species detected by the sampling methods included the native yellow-footed antechinus, bush rat and ring-tailed possum, while introduced black rats were also common.

The detection of these other species showed that Dr Hornsby was using effective techniques. These were hair tubes, w

Contact: Dr Peter Hornsby
Adelaide University

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