Response of the Agile Antechinus to Habitat Edge, Configuration and Condition in Fragmented Forest Academic Article uri icon

abstract

  • Habitat fragmentation and degradation seriously threaten native animal communities. We studied the response of a small marsupial, the agile antechinus Antechinus agilis, to several environmental variables in anthropogenically fragmented Eucalyptus forest in south-east Australia. Agile antechinus were captured more in microhabitats dominated by woody debris than in other microhabitats. Relative abundances of both sexes were positively correlated with fragment core area. Male and female mass-size residuals were smaller in larger fragments. A health status indicator, haemoglobin-haematocrit residuals (HHR), did not vary as a function of any environmental variable in females, but male HHR indicated better health where sites' microhabitats were dominated by shrubs, woody debris and trees other than Eucalyptus. Females were trapped less often in edge than interior fragment habitat and their physiological stress level, indicated by the neutrophil/lymphocyte ratio in peripheral blood, was higher where fragments had a greater proportion of edge habitat. The latter trend was potentially due to lymphopoenia resulting from stress hormone-mediated leukocyte trafficking. Using multiple indicators of population condition and health status facilitates a comprehensive examination of the effects of anthropogenic disturbances, such as habitat fragmentation and degradation, on native vertebrates. Male agile antechinus' health responded negatively to habitat degradation, whilst females responded negatively to the proportion of edge habitat. The health and condition indicators used could be employed to identify conservation strategies that would make habitat fragments less stressful for this or similar native, small mammals.

authors

publication date

  • 2011