Photo: Greg Calvert
This little marsupial is the Julia Creek dunnart: one of many
Australian small marsupials under threat because of habitat loss
and feral invasions.
However, during a recent field trip by students and lecturers at
JCU, it was found at Moorinya National Park—300 km away from
where all other records have placed it. Its habitat is the black
soils of the Mitchell-Flinders grasslands and the find suggests
that it may be more widespread than previously thought. All
previous captures have been much further west, in a small area
around Julia Creek.
“The discovery is important because it reveals a larger range
for the species than was previously known,” says Dr Chris
Johnson, senior lecturer on the field trip.
“We have trapped in that area for four years without catching
any Julia Creek dunnarts.” Moorinya National Park, 100 km
south of Hughenden, is the former Shirley cattle station.
“This first specimen turned up after a good wet season with
no cattle grazing. This could reflect an increase in numbers as a
result of those changed conditions, although of course a single
capture can’t possibly prove that,” said Dr Johnson.
“However we plan to continue trapping there, so we may
ultimately be able to say something about population trends.”
The Julia Creek dunnart, at 50g and 13 cm long is quite a bit
larger than other species of dunnarts which generally weigh in at
20 g and are 8 cm in length.
The beauty pictured here is a female, and after a brief stay in
Townsville, is now part of the captive breeding program at Fleays
Fauna Sanctuary on the Gold Coast. While there are encouraging
numbers of Julia Creek dunnarts in captivity, the indications are
that in the wild it’s in real trouble.
Dr Chris Johnson
Department of Zoology and Tropical Ecology
& Rainforest CRC, James Cook University
Tel: (07) 47 81 4141 Fax: (07) 47 251570