Long-term dynamics of a fragmented rainforest mammal assemblage
Habitat fragmentation is a severe threat to tropical biotas, but its long-term effects are poorly understood. We evaluated longer-term changes in the abundance of larger (>1 kg) mammals in fragmented and intact rainforest and in riparian "corridors" in tropical Queensland, with data from 190 spotlighting surveys conducted in 1986–1987 and 2006–2007. In 1986–1987 when most fragments were already 20–50 years old, mammal assemblages differed markedly between fragmented and intact forest. Most vulnerable were lemuroid ringtail possums (Hemibelideus lemuroides), followed by Lumholtz's tree-kangaroos (Dendrolagus lumholtzi) and Herbert River ringtail possums (Pseudocheirus herbertensis). Further changes were evident 20 years later. Mammal species richness fell significantly in fragments, and the abundances of 4 species, coppery brushtail possums (Trichosurus vulpecula johnstoni), green ringtail possums (Pseudochirops archeri), red-legged pademelons (Thylogale stigmatica), and tree-kangaroos, declined significantly. The most surprising finding was that the lemuroid ringtail, a strict rainforest specialist, apparently recolonized one fragment, despite a 99.98% decrease in abundance in fragments and corridors. A combination of factors, including long-term fragmentation effects, shifts in the surrounding matrix vegetation, and recurring cyclone disturbances, appear to underlie these dynamic changes in mammal assemblages.