More than 30 species of native mammals have become extinct in Australia in the last 200 years. Extinction rates have been highest in Australia’s deserts due to the accumulative and interacting effects of feral species and overgrazing by domestic stock. Restoring native mammals to desert areas is challenging due to introduced predators such as feral cats and foxes. However, reintroductions to fenced safe havens where cats and foxes are excluded have been very successful, and lessons learnt within these safe havens have helped improve restoration of arid systems at a broader scale.
This talk will discuss some of the successful marsupial reintroductions to desert areas including within fenced reserves at Arid Recovery and Wild Deserts, and at unfenced sites in the Ikara-Flinders Ranges. As well as restoring the species themselves, these translocations have triggered tropic cascades and reinstated ecosystem processes that are important for arid zone ecosystem function. These include foraging pits dug by the greater bilby which create important microsites for seedling germination; warrens dug by the burrowing bettong that provide shelter from weather extremes for a range of other species; and predation by the western quoll that helps control overabundant macropods and leads to vegetation recovery. Broadscale restoration of desert ecosystems without fences is still extremely challenging but recent advances in pest animal control and improved understanding of predator thresholds suggests that broadscale restoration may be more successful in the future.