Fire and logging are substantially reducing the number of hollow-bearing treesthat threatened and critically endangered Australian mammals can use as homes,a new study from The Australian National University (ANU) warns.

The findings come as the number of Australian mammals which live and nest intree hollows is also declining.

The study used information from 158 sites collected at regular intervals since1997.

It found a direct relationship between the number of hollow-bearing trees inan area and the number of possums and gliders living there. The study alsofound the number of critically endangered Leadbeater’s possums has declined inareas where the surrounding landscape has been logged.

The researchers who conducted the study suggest ongoing logging will havefurther negative impacts on Leadbeater’s possum, Victoria’s animal emblem.

The study also found the presence of the vulnerable greater glider declinedwith increasing fire in the landscape.

The study was led by ANU Professor David Lindenmayer AO, one of the world’smost cited forest ecologists.

“Almost all species of tree-living marsupials in Victoria’s tall, wet forestsrequire large old hollow- bearing trees to live and breed in,” ProfessorLindenmayer said.

“Vulnerable greater gliders and critically endangered Leadbeater’s possumscan’t just move and live in another part of Australia. If fire and loggingcontinue to degrade their key habitat, their populations may drop even closerto extinction.”

According to the researchers, Leadbeater’s possums and greater gliders havebeen on earth for many millions of years and have adapted to cope withnaturally occurring fire. But major fires are now occurring far morefrequently as the climate changes, and the animals face added pressure fromlogging, which removes the older trees with tree hollows.

“We found evidence for a decline in the occurrence of all species of tree-dwelling marsupials,” Professor Lindenmayer said.

“Previous studies have found trees take around 170 years to developappropriate tree hollows for tree-dwelling marsupials to live and breed in.However, the Victorian Government currently does not classify and protectforest as ‘old growth’ unless it is 250 years old.”

The study has been published in Animal Conservation.

Image Credit: Tim Bawen

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