New insights into what potoroos do can help us make their lives safer

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The first ever use of GPS dataloggers to monitor Long-nosed Potoroos has allowed researchers in the Otways to discover exciting new information about the species, which may have implications for how their habitat is managed in future.

As a result of placing tiny GPS trackers on 40 Long-nosed Potoroos, researcher Mark le Pla and colleagues from the University of Melbourne discovered potoroos in Victoria’s Otway Ranges had home ranges over twice as large as other reported estimates for the species in mainland Australia.

Historically, insight into an animal’s home range was generated through direct observation (if they were individually identifiable), from capture locations, or by attaching very high frequency (VHF) transmitters to individuals and relocating them using a VHF receiver.

But the Long-nosed potoroo is a cryptic and largely nocturnal species that lives in dense vegetation, making direct observations difficult. They are also small and notoriously wary of researchers’ traps, which has likely contributed to the small number of studies that describe their home range. So, the researchers thought they’d try using Global Positioning System (GPS) collars attached to the potoroos for the duration of the study, which are increasingly being used to generate high-volume and high-quality movement data in other species.

“A detailed understanding of animal movements is fundamental to developing and enacting effective conservation strategies. And that’s what makes the collection of this new GPS data so important,” says Mark, who is a PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne and undertook this research in collaboration with the Conservation Ecology Centre.

Locally, this new information about the home ranges of Long-nosed Potoroos will help inform land management practices, such as prescribed burning, giving land managers more information about what size patches of habitat need to remain post-fire to support Long-nosed Potoroos.

More broadly, land managers could use home range data like this to improve the management of potoroos in fire-prone landscapes by identifying where to prioritize recovery efforts (i.e. post-fire predator management) and better understanding the how many potoroos a landscape can support as it recovers from fire, based on the size patches of habitat that remain and the distances between them.

Given how much the findings from the study differed to previous results across mainland Australia, the researchers suggest there would be value in conducting similar research into the movement ecology of potoroos elsewhere throughout their distribution using this new GPS tracking method.

Doing so would determine if the patterns of movement and range overlap observed in the Otways study are consistent or vary according to different habitat types, body sizes, and landscape contexts.

Le Pla Mark, Hradsky Bronwyn A., Di Stefano Julian, Farley-Lehmer Tamika C., Birnbaum Emma K., Pascoe Jack H. (2023) Movement and ranging behaviour of long-nosed potoroos (Potorous tridactylus) in south-west Victoria, Australia. Wildlife Research – (