Fire and logging are substantially reducing the number of hollow-bearing trees that threatened and critically endangered Australian mammals can use as homes, a new study from The Australian National University (ANU) warns. 

The findings come as the number of Australian mammals which live and nest in tree hollows is also declining.  

The study used information from 158 sites collected at regular intervals since 1997.  

It found a direct relationship between the number of hollow-bearing trees in an area and the number of possums and gliders living there. The study also found the number of critically endangered Leadbeater’s possums has declined in areas where the surrounding landscape has been logged.  

The researchers who conducted the study suggest ongoing logging will have further negative impacts on Leadbeater’s possum, Victoria’s animal emblem.  

The study also found the presence of the vulnerable greater glider declined with increasing fire in the landscape.  

The study was led by ANU Professor David Lindenmayer AO, one of the world’s most cited forest ecologists. 

“Almost all species of tree-living marsupials in Victoria’s tall, wet forests require large old hollow- bearing trees to live and breed in,” Professor Lindenmayer said. 

“Vulnerable greater gliders and critically endangered Leadbeater’s possums can’t just move and live in another part of Australia. If fire and logging continue to degrade their key habitat, their populations may drop even closer to extinction.” 

According to the researchers, Leadbeater’s possums and greater gliders have been on earth for many millions of years and have adapted to cope with naturally occurring fire. But major fires are now occurring far more frequently as the climate changes, and the animals face added pressure from logging, which removes the older trees with tree hollows. 

“We found evidence for a decline in the occurrence of all species of tree-dwelling marsupials,” Professor Lindenmayer said. 

“Previous studies have found trees take around 170 years to develop appropriate tree hollows for tree-dwelling marsupials to live and breed in. However, the Victorian Government currently does not classify and protect forest as ‘old growth’ unless it is 250 years old.”  

The study has been published in Animal Conservation

Top image: greater glider. Photo: Tim Bawden

You may also like

Article Card Image

Fighting fires from space: how satellites and other tech could prevent catastrophic bushfires 

ANU researchers are using algorithms, drones and satellites to detect bushfires before they become natural disasters.

Article Card Image

Aussies snakes are undervalued: here’s how to be a friend from afar

We might not like it, but snakes are part of our environment - even in urban areas. We're often worried about what they might do to us, but have you thought about what we might do to them?

Article Card Image

New report shows alarming changes in the entire global water cycle

Globally, the air is getting hotter and drier, which means flash droughts and risky fire conditions are developing faster and more frequently.

Subscribe to ANU Reporter

Anu Logo

+61 2 6125 5111

The Australian National University, Canberra

CRICOS Provider: 00120C

ABN: 52 234 063 906

EDX Logo
APRU Logo
IARU Logo
Group of eight Australia Logo