Dasycercus cristicauda 

Scope: Global

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Mammalia Dasyuromorphia Dasyuridae

Scientific Name: Dasycercus cristicauda
Species Authority: (Krefft, 1867)
Common Name(s):
English Crest-tailed Mulgara
French Rat marsupial à queue crêtée
Chaetocercus cristicauda Krefft, 1867
Dasycercus hillieri (Thomas, 1905)
Taxonomic Notes:

The taxonomy of Dasycercus has been confusing, but is now resolved (Woolley 2005). Historically, three species, D. cristicauda, D. hillieri and D. blythi, have been described; were then synonymized (under D. cristicauda); and re-split (to Mulgara D. cristicauda and Ampurta D. hillieri). However, Woolley (2005) demonstrated that the correct names for the two species were Crest-tailed Mulgara D. cristicauda and Brush-tailed Mulgara D. blythi, and that there was no straightforward linkage between the previously applied ascription of names and the current classification (in many to most cases, what was referred to previously as D. cristicauda is now considered to be D. blythi, and what was previously referred to as D. hillieri is now D. cristicauda); with the issue further clouded by co-occurrence across some regions. Many observations or studies in which voucher specimens were not collected are now ambiguous; however, Woolley (2006) provided interpretation of the currently-accepted nomenclature to names used in a series of previous studies.

For the Crest-tailed Mulgara D. cristicauda, there are no subspecies

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Near Threatened ver 3.1
Year Published: 2016
Date Assessed: 2014-03-18
Assessor(s): Woinarski, J. & Burbidge, A.A.
Reviewer(s): Hawkins, C. & Johnson, C.N.
Contributor(s): Bluff, L., Brandle, R., Dickman, C., Masters, P., Pedler, R., Southgate, R. & Woolley, P.

Ascription of Red List status to the Crest-tailed Mulgara is difficult, in part because previous taxonomic confusion has made assessment of historic changes in population size and distribution difficult to interpret. Furthermore, there are no reliable estimates of population size or trends across the species geographic range, and the detection and interpretation of long-term trends may be complicated by substantial short-term fluctuations in numbers of individuals related to rainfall conditions.

The distribution of the Crest-tailed Mulgara is restricted, but larger than relevant threshold values (i.e. extent of occurrence (EOO) >20,000 km2 and area of occupancy (AOO) >2,000 km2). Its population size has not been reliably estimated but is probably not substantially >10,000 individuals during low rainfall years; its largest subpopulation may have <1,000 individuals. The population size is inferred to be undergoing continuing decline in parts of its range, although there is recent evidence that numbers have increased in at least some parts of its range following reduction in numbers of European Rabbit numbers. At present, the species could be close to eligibility for Vulnerable under criterion C2a(i). Further survey work should be undertaken to establish recent trends across the entire range of the species.

Previously published Red List assessments:

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:

The Crest-tailed Mulgara has (or had) a wide distribution across central and inland Australia. However, precise circumscription of distribution is hampered by long-standing nomenclatural confusion (see Taxonomic notes), which renders many previous non-vouchered records ambiguous. As such, distribution maps are likely to be an imperfect representation, particularly of the former distribution. A current study by P. Woolley (pers. comm. 2014) seeks to review and re-attribute all museum records, and will substantial increase the reliability of such mapping.

Woolley (2006) noted that Wood Jones’ earlier (1923, 1949) records from Ooldea (on the eastern edge of the Nullarbor Plain) were attributable to this species, as were a series from the Canning Stock Route (Western Australia, 1930s), where it occurred sympatrically with D. blythi. There have been no recent confirmed records from Western Australia. The current range may be restricted to the Simpson Desert (Queensland, Northern Territory, South Australia), and the Tirari and Strzelecki Deserts of north-eastern South Australia and the western Lake Eyre region. Tracks of Dasycercus most probably attributable to D. cristicauda were recorded recently on the western and eastern side of Lake Eyre (Southgate 2006) extending to the southern edge of Anna Creek and Etadunna Stations or around 29o S. Trapping in this region has confirmed the presence of the Crest-tailed Mulgara. Further sign was recorded near Goyder Channel between Lake Eyre North and Lake Eyre South (Southgate and Moseby 2011). No sign of Dasycercus was recorded at over 100 plots sampled further south (R. Southgate pers. comm. 2014).

In at least the north of South Australia the distribution of the species has increased substantially in association with decline in European Rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus numbers due to the spread of rabbit calicivirus, which has evidently had the effect of reducing the abundance of Red Foxes and feral Cats (Pedler et al. 2016).

Countries occurrence:
Australia (New South Wales - Possibly Extinct, Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia - Possibly Extinct)
Additional data:
Estimated area of occupancy (AOO) - km2:2000-10000Continuing decline in area of occupancy (AOO):Yes
Extreme fluctuations in area of occupancy (AOO):NoEstimated extent of occurrence (EOO) - km2:156717
Continuing decline in extent of occurrence (EOO):YesExtreme fluctuations in extent of occurrence (EOO):No
Continuing decline in number of locations:Unknown
Extreme fluctuations in the number of locations:No
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]


There has been no robust assessment of population size, nor that of individual subpopulations, and the abundance probably varies substantially in association with rainfall conditions. Woolley (2008) considered that it has ‘a presumed large population’. Masters (2008) considered it ‘sparse’.

Pavey et al. (2011) captured only 23 individuals over a 39 months study on 20 monitoring plots and 49 survey sites across five habitat types in a 7000 km2 area of the Simpson Desert region, and noted that predator impacts on population viability may be particularly pronounced when seasonal conditions lead to relatively regional-scale small population size.

The track-based monitoring survey on the western and eastern side of Lake Eyre found Dasycercus sign on 36 (29%) of 126 track-based monitoring plots sampled on sand dunes with cane grass Zygochloa paradoxa (Southgate 2006). Plots were 2 ha, searched for half an hour for tracks and located at least 5 km apart.

There is no substantial information on trends in population size. Between the 1930s and 1960s, Finlayson (1961) noted that mulgaras (including this species, in part) were ‘everywhere much reduced’ across large segments of central Australia; and on the basis of documentation of Aboriginal knowledge across central Australia in the decades leading to the 1980s, Burbidge et al. (1988) noted that ‘most people said it had disappeared. Some said it was still around and relatively common in certain areas’. Woolley (2008) considered that the population trend was ‘stable’.

Recent sampling (C. Dickman pers. comm. 2014) failed to record any animals at the Montara sand dune system at Sandringham Station, where the species was sampled by P. Woolley in the 1970s. However, in at least the north of South Australia the distribution and (probably) population size of the species has increased substantially in association with decline in European Rabbit numbers due to the spread of rabbit calicivirus, which has evidently had the effect of reducing the abundance of Red Foxes and feral cats (Pedler et al. 2016).

Current Population Trend:Stable
Additional data:
Number of mature individuals:18000Continuing decline of mature individuals:Yes
Extreme fluctuations:NoPopulation severely fragmented:No
No. of subpopulations:10

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:

The Crest-tailed Mulgara is a mostly nocturnal marsupial, with a diet comprising a broad range of invertebrates and small vertebrates (Masters 2008). During the day it shelters in burrow systems, typically located at the base of grass clumps or bushes (Woolley 1990). It mostly occurs in sand dunes, with sparse vegetation (including the tall grass Zygochloa paradoxa), and in herblands and sparse grasslands bordering salt lakes (Masters 2008; Pavey et al. 2011). In an area of sympatry, the Brush-tailed Mulgara occupied sand plain and gibber plain, and the Crest-tailed Mulgara occupied sand ridges with tussock grasses (Woolley 2005; Pavey et al. 2011).

Reproduction is seasonal, with births in winter and early spring (Wood Jones 1949; Masters 2008). Sexual maturity is reached in the first year (Wood Jones 1949); generation length is taken here to be two years.

Continuing decline in area, extent and/or quality of habitat:Yes
Generation Length (years):2
Movement patterns:Not a Migrant

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): Threats are poorly understood but include predation by and competition with feral cats and Red Foxes, habitat degradation due to livestock and feral herbivores, and, possibly, inappropriate fire regimes.

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions:

The Crest-tailed Mulgara is present in some conservation reserves, where it is protected from some threats.

Citation: Woinarski, J. & Burbidge, A.A. 2016. Dasycercus cristicauda. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T6266A21945813. . Downloaded on 30 August 2016.
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