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Resilience of arboreal folivores to habitat damage by a severe tropical cyclone

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  • Present address: School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, James Cook University, P.O. Box 6811, Cairns, Qld, Australia, 4870 (Email: Robyn.Wilson@jcu.edu.au)

Abstract

Abstract  Severe tropical cyclones greatly modify habitat of arboreal folivores by destroying forest canopy, reducing structure and complexity and defoliating remaining trees. We hypothesized that forest modification following severe Cyclone Larry would stress arboreal folivores of the Family Pseudocheiridae and be reflected in increased home ranges and a decrease in body condition. We conducted 19 pre-cyclone and 24 post-cyclone spotlighting surveys at a site with severe cyclone damage, and 18 post-cyclone surveys at a site with minor damage. We detected a greater number of lemuroid, Hemibelideus lemuroides and green, Pseudochirops archeri, ringtail possums as these possums remained in the severely damaged canopy and forest edge. In contrast, Herbert River ringtail possums, Pseudochirulus herbertensis, were detected in smaller numbers. We radio-tracked eight P. herbertensis before the cyclone, following two of these and nine new animals after the category 4 cyclone. No significant post-cyclone alteration in home range area or span was recorded in data pooled across the two sites or in limited post-cyclone data at the severely disturbed site, but a greater variability in home range was observed after cyclone (pooled across sites: 1.72 ± 0.77 ha; 197 ± 47 m) than before the cyclone (1.35 ± 0.30 ha; 196 ± 23 m). In contrast, pooled pre- and post-cyclone home range areas and spans were larger at the severely-disturbed site (2.08 ± 0.56 ha; 231 ± 32 m) than at the site with minor damage (0.68 ± 0.11 ha; 114 ± 25 m), suggesting resources were more widely spread at the former site. Post-cyclone home ranges were also larger at the severely damaged site (severe: 3.33 ± 1.36 ha, n = 3; minor: 0.52 ± 0.07 ha, n = 4). Condition of P. herbertensis (mass/tail length) did not differ significantly pre- and post-cyclone or between less and severely disturbed sites. These results and observations of breeding after cyclone suggest that possum populations may be resilient to severe cyclone damage under the relatively wet conditions experienced post-Cyclone Larry.

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