Monitoring our threatened fauna

common dunnart.jpg

The forest floor crunches beneath our feet and the choughs call out warning of intruders, as we search for another fauna nest box in Yanggai reserve.

Raising a tube-like camera on the end of a pole up to the small circular entrance of the nest box, we quietly register ‘ready’ before honing in on a close up view.

We draw our breath, something is in there – we have an animal! Crouched down in a nest of bird feathers and leaves underneath an elegant black bottlebrush like tail, straining hard to go unnoticed, is a Brush-tailed Phascogale. The first I have ever seen! Eureka!

Brush-tailed Phascogale.jpg

Australian wildlife can be illusive. Not only are many species nocturnal, they often have cryptic behaviour we don’t fully understand, and their populations are declining in size and range. Combine these attributes with their ability to move at lightening speeds, along with clever camouflage methods, observing them is a difficult task.

Nillumbik Shire is home to a number of these species including:

Brush-tailed phascogales (Phascogale tapoatafa) and Slender-tailed Dunnarts (Sminthhopsis murina).

Both species belong to the Dasyuridae family and they're mainly carnivorous and insectivorous, living on insects, lizards, frogs and even small mammals.

Found in dry woodland and forests, Phascogales live predominantly in trees whilst Dunnarts are ground dwelling.

Sadly, due to habitat loss and predation both species are classified as in decline (IUCN Red List)

In 2017, Nillumbik Shire Council received State Government funding under the Biodiversity On Ground Action (BOGA) to engage the local community in understanding and monitoring threatened species in our bushland reserves.This grant provided funding for educational workshops and on-ground activities.

One of the most effective ways of protecting our threatened species is by increasing community understanding of their ecology, habitat and monitoring requirements and building capacity for appropriate human responses.

Through the BOGA grant, community members have attended educational workshops on the current status of threatened species, conducted research and implemented protective actions to protect this species.

One such protective action is the installation of chainsaw hollows throughout the reserves to augment Brush-tailed Phascogale's nest boxes.

The installation of chainsaw hollows is a new initiative that involves creating a hollow within the centre of a live tree using chainsaws. The hollows provide a natural, and thermally superior alternative (warm in winter, cool in summer) to nest boxes with minimal damage to the tree.

Of the ten chainsaw hollows installed in October 2018, and monitored by community members, six showed signs of Phascogale usage in April 2019. This is an outstanding result as nest box uptake can often take up to two years. 

Threatened plants and animals need our help. They are vulnerable due to human activity, habitat loss and introduced predators. As a local community there is much that we can do to support these iconic species including:

  • Learning about these species and working together to protect and enhance their environment. This is a great way to bring us together with a common purpose. It opens our eyes to the beauty and complexity of the natural world around us and empowers us to address their needs both now and into the future. 
  • Another initiative is to involve the local community in habitat creation and monitoring of Dunnarts Tiny mouse like creatures. Dunnarts naturally live in hollow logs, rock crevices and tufted grasses. However where habitat has been reduced, tiles have been found to provide extra shelter alternatives in the reserves.

The community joined Nillumbik Environmental Works staff for a creative day decorating and laying cement tiles. These tiles have been monitored twice by community members, as yet no Dunnarts have been found. 


Helen Corney, Environment Project Officer