Roadsides, drains and railway lines could be prime property for wildlife in urban areas

5 February 2013

Strips of land along roadsides, drains and railway lines could be the key to survival for our native wildlife in developed landscapes, according to a Deakin University researcher.

Miss Sarah Maclagan, a PhD student with Deakin’s School of Life and Environmental Sciences, is researching the potential for the strips of vegetated land that remain in urbanised areas for wildlife habitats. Her research is focussed on the Southern Brown Bandicoot, a species that is managing to survive in very limited strips of native vegetation in the former Koo Wee Rup Swamp region, 70 km southeast of Melbourne.

“Expanding urbanisation continues to encroach on the habitat of native wildlife, including the endangered Southern Brown Bandicoot and native lizards and birds such as Brown Quail, Rufous Whistler and Yellow Robin,” Miss Maclagan said.

“Roadsides and other small remnant patches of vegetation in otherwise cleared landscapes could provide valuable places for wildlife to live.

“I’m fascinated by the idea that with careful planning, we could keep bandicoots and other wildlife in the landscape even while we develop it. This would be good not only for the wildlife, but for people to be able to interact with wildlife in their own neighbourhoods.

“Bandicoots are a perfect candidate for conservation in an urbanised landscape, as they have very adaptable diet and shelter requirements, and are extremely rapid breeders when conditions are good.”

While providing suitable places to live is one aspect of keeping native wildlife from extinction, Miss Maclagan is also looking at the impact introduced species such as foxes, cats and rats have on the survival of the bandicoot.

Cats, both domestic and feral, are a particular problem and, while many domestic cat owners are doing the right thing and keeping their cats indoors or confining them to their yards, Miss Maclagan believes more needs to be done. To illustrate this point she has posted a video to Youtube that shows a domestic cat killing a young bandicoot.

“My point here is not to demonise cats nor their owners, it’s about responsible cat ownership, and how looking after your pets properly can help our unique wildlife to survive in urban areas,” Ms Miss Maclagan explained.

“People need to be continually reminded of the impact cats do have on wildlife, as shown in the video.

“The reality is to minimise threats to wildlife in urban areas it is necessary to manage our pets sensitively. For cat owners, this means keeping cats confined at all times. Ideally this would be inside the house or within a custom-built outdoor cat-run, but at the very least it would be confining the cat to their own property through special cat fencing.

“Keeping cats inside at night is not enough, as many people believe. Wildlife, including bandicoots, are still active during the day.

“Local councils whose areas contain native and endangered species also have an important role to play by introducing and enforcing regulations, such as containing cats to the owner’s yards. There are examples of councils implementing such regulations, but there needs to be more widespread adoption.”

Miss Maclagan holds out hope that with considered urban planning and sensitive pet ownership, it is possible for us to coexist with our native wildlife.

“If we can learn to co-exist with wildlife by providing their basic needs and minimising threats, we can enjoy observing and interacting with wildlife in our own neighbourhoods rather than feeling like nature is something far away and separate, tucked away in national parks,” she said.

About the Southern Brown Bandicoot and Miss Maclagan’s project:

• The Southern Brown Bandicoot (SBB) is a nationally endangered species
• Once one of the most common mammal species in south east Australia, early naturalists joked about tripping over them, they were that common
• The endangered subspecies can be found from just north of Sydney around to Adelaide. Now restricted to isolated populations
• Key threats have been introduced predators, habitat destruction and modification, and fragmentation of remaining habitats leading to loss of connectivity between populations
• Miss Maclagan is investigating the ecology of Southern Brown Bandicoots in a rapidly developing landscape, the former Koo Wee Rup Swamp region, only 70 km southeast of Melbourne
• This whole landscape was once an enormous swamp. It was cleared from the 1850s for farmland and better access to Melbourne. Now there is estimated to be only 2 per cent native vegetation remaining and this is largely along drains, roadsides and railway lines
• Amazingly, the SBB appears to be hanging on in these linear strips. However we know nothing about how well they are doing and whether they will survive over the long term
• For the population to be viable over the long-term, there needs to be gene flow across the landscape. That means individuals from different areas need to be able to move around and interbreed. So the connectivity provided by these linear habitats could have crucial importance
• The pressure on bandicoots and other wildlife is set to increase as urbanisation is expanding rapidly in this area. One of the proposals put forward to retain bandicoots in the landscape is to provide corridors for them to move around and live within
• So it is vital that we understand how they are currently using existing corridors and to find out what factors are important for their survival in them over the long term
• Miss Maclagan’s PhD is trying to address this by looking at home range and movement patterns, health factors compared to bandicoots in more intact landscapes and interactions with introduced species such as foxes, cats and rats

News facts
  • Researchers investigating roadsides, drains and railway lines as places for displaced wildlife to call home
  • Research is focussing on the Southern Brown Bandicoot, a species that is managing to survive in very limited strips of native vegetation
  • Researchers also looking at the impact of introduced animals such as cats and believe that with considered urban planning and sensitive pet ownership, it is possible for us to coexist with our native wildlife

Media contact

Mandi O'Garretty
Deakin Media Relations
03 5227 2776; 0418 361 890

Southern Brown Bandicoot

The Southern Brown Bandicoot is being studied as an example of native wildlife that is adapting to living in limited strips of vegetation within an urban area

Cat with bandicoot

A Youtube video shows the damage cats do to wildlife when let roam

Deakin University acknowledges the traditional land owners of present campus sites.

5th February 2013