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Seasonal and altitudinal influences on the home range and movements of common wombats in the Australian Snowy Mountains

Authors


Correspondence

Alison Matthews, Institute for Land, Water and Society, Charles Sturt University, PO Box 789, Albury NSW 2640, Australia.

Email: almatthews@csu.edu.au

Abstract

Many animals throughout the world are excluded from areas because of seasonal snow cover. The aim of this study was to determine how snow influences the home range use and movements of the common wombat, a large burrowing mammal that remains active in the subalpine zone of the Australian Snowy Mountains throughout winter but is not resident in the alpine zone (above treeline). Global positioning system collars were deployed on wombats to monitor nightly movements continuously over both the winter and non-winter periods. Home ranges of wombats (six male, five female) were far larger than previously reported (mean = 172 ha; 95% kernel method), and increased significantly with altitude. Wombats typically remained in their non-winter home range during winter, but they contracted their range (by 7–43%) and shifted their centre of activity. Some wombats also moved more slowly and did not travel as far each night during winter. This study has shown that wombats at their upper range limit in marginal habitat exhibit a high degree of behavioural flexibility and have a surprising capacity for long-distance movements over large home ranges, despite their need to burrow. This suggests that the alpine zone is easily within their dispersal range, but they are currently constrained by snow depth. If the snow cover continues to decline, then wombats will be limited only by the suitability of the habitat in the alpine zone, such as for burrowing.

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