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Time to adjust: changes in the diet of a reintroduced marsupial after release

  • Hannah Bannister (a1), Adam Croxford (a2), Robert Brandle (a3), David C. Paton (a1) and Katherine Moseby (a1)...

Abstract

An important component of reintroduction is acclimatization to the release site. Movement parameters and breeding are common metrics used to infer the end of the acclimatization period, but the time taken to locate preferred food items is another important measure. We studied the diet of a reintroduced population of brushtail possums Trichosurus vulpecula in semi-arid South Australia over a 12 month period, investigating changes over time as well as the general diet. We used next-generation DNA sequencing to determine the contents of 253 scat samples, after creating a local plant reference library. Vegetation surveys were conducted monthly to account for availability. Dietary diversity and richness decreased significantly with time since release after availability was accounted for. We used Jacob's Index to assess selectivity; just 13.4% of available plant genera were significantly preferred overall, relative to availability. The mean proportion of preferred plant genera contained within individual samples increased significantly with time since release, but the frequency of occurrence of preferred plants did not. Five genera (Eucalyptus, Petalostylis, Maireana, Zygophyllum and Callitris) were present in more than half of samples. There was no difference in dietary preferences between sexes (Pianka overlap = 0.73). Our results suggest that acclimatization periods may be longer than those estimated via reproduction, changes in mass and movement parameters, but that under suitable conditions a changeable diet should not negatively affect reintroduction outcomes. Reintroduction projects should aim to extend post-release monitoring beyond the dietary acclimatization period and, for dry climates, diet should be monitored through a drought period.

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Copyright

Corresponding author

Corresponding author, E-mail hannah_bannister@outlook.com

Footnotes

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Also at: Ecological Horizons Pty Ltd, Kimba, Australia

Supplementary material for this article is available at doi.org/10.1017/S0030605319000991

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Time to adjust: changes in the diet of a reintroduced marsupial after release

  • Hannah Bannister (a1), Adam Croxford (a2), Robert Brandle (a3), David C. Paton (a1) and Katherine Moseby (a1)...

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