Phascogale tapoatafa 

Scope: Global
Language: English

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Mammalia Dasyuromorphia Dasyuridae

Scientific Name: Phascogale tapoatafa (Meyer, 1793)
Common Name(s):
English Brush-tailed Phascogale
French Grand Phascogale
Phascogale tapoatafa (Meyer, 1793) ssp. tapoatafa
Taxonomic Notes:

The taxonomy of Phascogale tapoatafa is unresolved. It was long considered a single, widely distributed species (Ride 1970). Based on morphological analysis, Rhind et al. (2001) proposed three subspecies: P. t. tapoatafa from south-eastern Australia, P. t. pirata from northern Australia (Kimberley and Northern Territory) and an unnamed subspecies from south-western Australia. Using genetic analyses, Spencer et al. (2001) proposed that Phascogale comprised four distinct lineages: the three groups mentioned above plus P. calura, and inferred that the three taxa within P. tapoatafa be recognised as full species. Later, Soderquist and Rhind (2008) recognised the Northern Territory, but not the Kimberley, population as P. pirata, labelling the Kimberley population as an undescribed subspecies; however no analyses supporting this taxonomy have been published. In this Action Plan, we have followed this taxonomy. M. Westerman et al. (pers. comm.) have unpublished genetic data supporting the separation of P. pirata from P. tapoatafa, but have been unable to obtain samples from Kimberley animals. As currently recognised, there are three subspecies:

P. t. tapoatafa is Near Threatened;

P. t. (south-western Australia) is Near Threatened;

P. t. (Kimberley) is Endangered.

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Near Threatened ver 3.1
Year Published: 2016
Date Assessed: 2012-12-31
Assessor(s): Burbidge, A.A. & Woinarski, J.
Reviewer(s): Johnson, C.N. & Hawkins, C.
Contributor(s): Menkhorst, P., Rhind, S., Soderquist, T. & Start, T.
Listed as Near Threatened because there is a suspected population size reduction over the past 10 years and suspected population decline to continue into the future, both approaching 30%, because of habitat degradation and habitat clearance and fragmentation, as well as the impact of introduced predators, making the species close to qualifying for Vulnerable under criterion A, subcriteria A2, A3, A4.
Previously published Red List assessments:

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:

The Brush-tailed Phascogale originally occurred in most of south-western Australia, the extreme south east of South Australia, much of Victoria, coastal and near coastal New South Wales, coastal and near coastal Queensland, and the higher rainfall part of north-western Kimberley. It has disappeared from semi-arid south-western Australia, parts of Victoria, and much of New South Wales and Queensland. It is presumed to be extinct in South Australia (with the last reliable record in 1967; Menkhorst et al. 2008), including Kangaroo Island (Inns 2002). The distribution in northern Queensland is poorly known, but an increasing number of recent records has partly resolved its north-eastern range (Covacevich et al. 1994, Winter 2004)

In the south-west of Western Australia, the population fluctuates markedly in response to climatic conditions (Rhind and Bradley 2002). The species may have declined in the south-west in the last ten years; there are fewer records in spite of increased survey effort. Its status in the Kimberley is unclear as there have been very few recent records.

Burbidge et al. (2009) found that the Brush-tailed Phascogale originally occurred in 26 Interim Biogeographic Regionalisation for Australia bioregions, that it was extinct in six of these, had declined or seriously declined in 14 and ‘persisted’ in only five (‘persisted’ meant ‘Persists in >50% of its former range within the bioregion (note that range equates to ‘extent of occurrence’, not ‘area of occupancy’ (IUCN 2001)’.
Countries occurrence:
Additional data:
Estimated area of occupancy (AOO) - km2:2700
Extreme fluctuations in area of occupancy (AOO):No
Continuing decline in extent of occurrence (EOO):YesExtreme fluctuations in extent of occurrence (EOO):No
Number of Locations:25
Extreme fluctuations in the number of locations:No
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population:There are no robust estimates of population size, or that of subpopulations. Although males may often enter traps during the breeding season (Cuttle 1982), Brush-tailed Phascogales do not enter conventional traps readily most of the time, making estimates of abundance difficult. More surveys using other detection techniques and non-conventional traps, such as nest boxes, are required. It is likely that they occur sparsely but discontinuously across their extensive range.
Current Population Trend:Decreasing
Additional data:
Number of mature individuals:15000
Extreme fluctuations:NoPopulation severely fragmented:No

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:

The most arboreal dasyurid marsupial, the Brush-tailed Phascogale is nocturnal and seldom feeds on the ground. They are agile hunters and can leap as much as 2 m between tree branches or trunks. During the day they shelter in tree hollows. Home range in females can typically be 20-40 ha, while male home ranges may be >100 ha; however, home range can be much smaller in high quality forest (van der Ree et al. 2001). Diet is predominantly invertebrates found on or under bark; nectar is also taken, appearing to be a particularly prized but rare and patchy food source (Scarff et al. 1998).

Rhind (1996) found that, in forests of south-western Australia, Brush-tailed Phascogales used hollows in mature and dead Jarrah Eucalyptus marginata and Marri Corymbia calophylla. Rhind (1996) also found that logging practices of the time removed most habitat trees. Competition for nest hollows from other species that nest or shelter in hollows, including the introduced Honey Bee Apis mellifera, may be limiting (van der Ree et al. 2006).

Rhind (2002) reported that, in south west Australia, habitat quality was correlated with body size and the largest phascogales were found in swamp/gully systems, suggesting food is a normally limiting resource for this species in this environment. Additionally, a significant decrease in growth rate occurred during a drought year, and growth of young seemed restricted during dependency. Maternal mortality appeared high during late lactation as orphaned, unweaned young were encountered in nest boxes. Subsequently, adult males were 25% less in mass than usual; females 15% less. Population decline followed with capture rates one-third of that typically found for the time of year. Recovery was not apparent until two years after drought. In this food-limited environment phascogale populations appear particularly vulnerable to annual fluctuations in rainfall.

Continuing decline in area, extent and/or quality of habitat:Yes
Generation Length (years):1
Movement patterns:Not a Migrant

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): Past reduction in area of occupancy for this species has been predominantly caused by gross habitat alteration including continued habitat clearing and fragmentation. Habitat alteration as a result of logging and mining has also been detrimental to the species. The greatest current threat is predation by feral cats; the increasing decline in the availability of hollow-bearing trees is also a threat. Predation by the red fox is also a threat. Male die-off immediately after breeding makes this taxon particularly vulnerable to stochastic events. Reproductively viable populations require large areas of suitable habitat in order to persist because male home ranges are often greater than 100 hectares (Soderquist and Rhind 2008).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: Recommended actions for this species include: taxonomic work to assess the status of the various regional populations, especially the Kimberley population; developing survey techniques for this species to increase knowledge of its distribution, population status, and to allow for monitoring; identifying key habitats and populations; determining the relative importance of threatening processes throughout its range; and determining the potential impact of 1080 baiting on phascogales in south-east Australia. Development of broad-scale effective control technology for feral cats is a priority.

Citation: Burbidge, A.A. & Woinarski, J. 2016. Phascogale tapoatafa. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T16890A21944334. . Downloaded on 25 September 2018.
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