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Communal nesting in the usually solitary marsupial, Phascogale tapoatafa

  • Susan G. Rhind (a1)

Abstract

The marsupial brushtailed phascogale Phascogale tapoatafa is a solitary, hollow-dependent, arboreal insectivore that occurs at low densities in open forests and woodlands of Australia. Data gathered from nest box surveys (4 years), and from radio-tracking phascogales to nest sites (3 years) in south-western Australia confirm solitary nesting after dispersal. However, in the winter of a single year, nest box surveys in one study area showed that 56% of individuals were nest sharing. On a neighbouring site, 81 group nests were also recorded among 18 radio-collared individuals. In both areas, groups comprised two to four individuals of any age/sex combination. The same phascogales tended to nest together and in a number of different sites. Nest sharing between females was restricted to territory boundaries and continued after the annual die-off of the males. Nest sharing coincided with prolonged drought conditions and in this year mature phascogales were significantly smaller than normal, i.e. males 25% less in weight, females 12% less. Communal nesting seemed to be a response to thermoregulatory difficulties posed by the three interrelated factors of low body mass, declining temperatures and declining food availability. Nest sharing in this species appeared to be a behavioural indicator of an energetics crisis, there was a population decline during the drought period and a population crash in the following year.

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Corresponding author

All correspondence to current address: National Parks and Wildlife Service, P.O. Box 2111, Dubbo, New South Wales, Australia, 2830. E-mail: Susan.Rhind@npws.nsw.gov.au
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Journal of Zoology
  • ISSN: 0952-8369
  • EISSN: 1469-7998
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-zoology
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