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Collaboration key to understanding Bilby population in western Queensland

08 May. 2022
Brad Leue/AWC

The Greater Bilby (Macrotis lagotis) is one of Australia’s most recognisable oddities, with its long soft-pink ears, kangaroo-like hind legs and loping gait. Despite their small size, Bilbies are industrious burrowers, individually turning over up to 20 tonnes of topsoil in a year and significantly modifying the ecosystems they inhabit. This digging activity not only bioturbates the soil, increasing water infiltration and nutrient cycling, but also provides shelter for other native species from feral predators, fire, heat and other threats, making the Bilby an important ecosystem engineer.  

AWC Senior Field Ecologist Andrew Howe, Senior Ecologist Richard Seaton and Field Ecologist Emily Rush inspect a Bilby burrow complex. Jane McDonald/AWC
AWC Senior Field Ecologist Andrew Howe, Senior Ecologist Richard Seaton and Field Ecologist Emily Rush inspect a Bilby burrow complex.

Bilbies were once widespread in arid and semi-arid landscapes across mainland Australia, but now occupy less than 20% of their former range. Remnant Bilby populations are patchily distributed in the Diamantina River region in Queensland, and, across the state, Bilbies now occupy less than an estimated 5% of their former range.

Historical and current Bilby distribution. AWC has established reintroduced Bilby populations at five sanctuaries and partnership areas within the marsupial’s former range. Historical distribution based on Southgate (1990) and Woinarski et al (2014) and current distribution based on Southgate (1990), Woinarski et al (2014) and Commonwealth Government (2022).
Historical and current Bilby distribution. AWC has established reintroduced Bilby populations at five sanctuaries and partnership areas within the marsupial’s former range. Historical distribution based on Southgate (1990) and Woinarski et al (2014) and current distribution based on Southgate (1990), Woinarski et al (2014) and Commonwealth Government (2022). Map created by Hannah Mullis/AWC

Improving our understanding of Queensland’s Bilby population is fundamental to improving the ability of government and conservation groups, including AWC, to conserve the species. As such, AWC is assisting with efforts to determine the extent of the remaining Bilby population in western Queensland. In October 2021, AWC ecologists Richard Seaton, Andrew Howe and Emily Rush, assisted by brilliant volunteers, undertook a Bilby survey on three of North Australian Pastoral Company’s (NAPCo) properties. A total of 66 sites were surveyed by AWC staff, complementing surveys of adjacent properties conducted by the Queensland Government and Save the Bilby Fund. The data and results are being compiled by the project partners and a report outlining results will be available soon. 

NAPCo properties in south-west Queensland support some of the last remaining wild populations of Bilbies in the state. Brad Leue/AWC

 

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