Conilurus penicillatus 

Scope: Global
Language: English

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Mammalia Rodentia Muridae

Scientific Name: Conilurus penicillatus
Species Authority: (Gould, 1842)
Common Name(s):
English Brush-tailed Rabbit-rat, Brush-tailed Tree-rat

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Vulnerable A2abce+3bce+4abce ver 3.1
Year Published: 2016
Date Assessed: 2015-07-18
Assessor(s): Burbidge, A.A. & Woinarski, J.
Reviewer(s): Amori, G.
Contributor(s): Ward, S., Firth, R., Radford, I., Aplin, K., Dickman, C. & Helgen, K.
Listed as Vulnerable because this species is likely in significant decline (at a rate that is imprecisely known but about 30% over past, current and future 10-year periods) because of loss of its specialized habitat (tree hollows), additional habitat loss due to changing fire regimes, and predation by introduced species This species was formerly much more widespread. There is little information about the status of populations in Western Australia and New Guinea.
Previously published Red List assessments:

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:This species is known from Australia and the island of New Guinea (Papua New Guinea only). In Australia, it previously occurred though much of monsoonal northern areas, but has disappeared from >80% of its historic range, including extensive north Queensland, much of the Kimberley and monsoonal tropics of the Northern Territory, with ongoing recent extirpations, such as from Kakadu National Park (Woinarski et al. 2014). The only recent confirmed records from the Australian mainland are from Cobourg Peninsula (Northern Territory) and Mitchell Plateau and Prince Regent National Park (north Kimberley, Western Australia). There are also recent (post-2000) records from Bathurst, Melville and Centre Island (Northern Territory) and Groote Eylandt (Northern Territory) (Woinarski 2000, 2005; Woinarski et al. 1999, 2014).

In New Guinea, it is known only from two nearby localities (Penzara Village and Morehead) in southern Western Province, where it seems to be a distinct subspecies, Conilurus p. randi. Surveys suggest that the species has a restricted distribution in New Guinea (Flannery 1995).
Countries occurrence:
Australia (Northern Territory, Queensland - Possibly Extinct, Western Australia); Papua New Guinea
Additional data:
Estimated area of occupancy (AOO) - km2:15000Continuing decline in area of occupancy (AOO):Yes
Extreme fluctuations in area of occupancy (AOO):NoEstimated extent of occurrence (EOO) - km2:150000
Continuing decline in extent of occurrence (EOO):YesExtreme fluctuations in extent of occurrence (EOO):No
Number of Locations:7Continuing decline in number of locations:Yes
Extreme fluctuations in the number of locations:No
Upper elevation limit (metres):60
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population:There are no reliable estimates of population size. Woinarski et al. (2014) estimated population of 50,000 mature individuals in Australia but with low reliability. Where present, it may be abundant (up to seven individuals/ha) (Firth 2007, Woinarski et al. 2014).
Current Population Trend:Decreasing
Additional data:
Number of mature individuals:50000Continuing decline of mature individuals:Yes
Extreme fluctuations:NoPopulation severely fragmented:Yes
No. of subpopulations:7Continuing decline in subpopulations:Yes
Extreme fluctuations in subpopulations:NoAll individuals in one subpopulation:No

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:

Most records of this species are from lowland eucalypt forests and woodland, particularly those dominated by Darwin Woollybutt Eucalyptus miniata and/or Darwin Stringybark E. tetrodonta. Modelling analysis of survey records (from a total of 351 sample sites) on the Tiwi Islands (Firth et al. 2006a) showed that it preferred tall eucalypt forests away from wet areas in sites that had not been exposed to recent severe fires. In a Kimberley study, it was recorded more from coastal woodlands than from tall open forest (Bradley et al. 1987). It has also been recorded in other vegetation types, including Coastal She-oak Casuarina equisetifolia open woodlands and coastal grasslands (adjacent to woodlands) (Taylor and Horner 1971, Frith and Calaby 1974), and it has been recorded foraging along beaches (Frith and Calaby 1974). Fossil and subfossil records extend its distribution to the Camooweal area, north-western Queensland, suggesting that it may have extended into semi-arid open woodlands (Cramb and Hocknull 2010).

Brush-tailed Rabbit-rats shelter during the day in tree hollows (particularly of rough-barked species, and in larger trees) and hollow logs (Firth et al. 2006b), and may also occasionally shelter in Pandanus canopies (Dahl 1897).

The Brush-tailed Rabbit-rat primarily eats seeds, particularly of grass species (Morton 1992, Firth et al. 2005). Seeds of the native perennial Cockatoo Grass Alloteropsis semialata may be particularly preferred (Firth et al. 2005). Other dietary items include grass, termites, fruits and foliage (Morton 1992, Firth et al. 2005). It primarily forages on the ground, but, less so, also in trees (Kitchener et al. 1981, Friend et al. 1992).

Brush-tailed Rabbit-rats have a long breeding season (from March to October) (in which females may give birth to at least two sets of young); average litter size is two to three (Taylor and Horner 1971, Firth 2007, Kemper and Firth 2008). Sexual maturity is reached after 11 weeks (for females: Kemper and Firth 2008); in the wild, individuals have been recorded as living at least two years (Firth 2007). Generation length is 1-2 years.

Continuing decline in area, extent and/or quality of habitat:Yes
Generation Length (years):1.5
Movement patterns:Not a Migrant

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): The species appears to have specific habitat requirements and may be vulnerable to local extinctions (Kemper and Firth 2008). In Papua New Guinea, the habitat of this species is impacted by introduced deer and the species may be predated by feral dogs. In Australian range, frequent fires decrease the availability of tree holes and hollow logs, on which this species depends. With too few fires, the species can also be threatened – it needs an appropriate fire regime (Firth et al. 2010). Predation by feral cats is a likely major threat, and their impacts may be exacerbated by current fire regimes.

The population on the Tiwi Islands has been reduced by a forestry development that cleared > 30,000 ha of the preferred habitat (tall eucalypt open forests) and replaced it with plantations of fast-growing exotic Acacia species (Woinarski 2005).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: In Australia, this species occurs in some conservation reserves, including Price Regent, Garik Gunak Barlu, and Kakadu, but reservation per se is insufficient conservation protection, as it has recently been extirpated from Kakadu. Threats driving decline are largely uncontrolled across almost all of range.

Citation: Burbidge, A.A. & Woinarski, J. 2016. Conilurus penicillatus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T5224A22450418. . Downloaded on 23 July 2017.
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