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The Brush-tailed Phascogale (Phascogale tapoatafa), also known as the Tuan, is a small, nocturnal, arboreal, carnivorous marsupial. It is a uniform deep grey on the head, back and flanks, light grey to pale cream underneath with large naked ears and a conspicuous, black 'brushy' tail.
There are two sub-species in Australia:
- Phascogale tapoatafa tapoatafa, occurrs in southern Australia,
- Phascogale tapoatafa pirata, in northern Australia.
Habitat and ecology
The Brush-tailed Phascogale inhabits open dry foothill forest with little ground cover, typically associated with box, ironbark and stringybark eucalyptus. It now has a fragmented distribution, to the east and north-east of Melbourne, central Victoria around Ballarat, Heathcote and Bendigo; north-eastern Victoria from Broadford to Wodonga; the Brisbane Ranges north-east of Geelong; and far western Victoria from Mt Eccles to Apsley. The Brush-tailed Phascogale is a shy, cryptic species that occurs in low densities and forages over a very large home range (female 20–70 ha, males 100 ha) which means only small populations can exist in quite large areas of habitat.
Photo credit: Jerry Alexander. Distribution of Brush-tailed Phascogale in Victoria. Source: Victorian Biodiversity Atlas, 13 January 2014 Photo credit: Andy Arnold. Photo credit: Andy Arnold. In typical phascogale habitat, a team from the Regent Honeyeater Project checks artificial nestboxes for signs of phascogales or Squirrel Gliders. Lurg Hills, north-eastern Victoria.
Brush-tailed Phascogale in nest box. Image Eileen Collins. click thumb for enlargement. Remote camera image of Brush-tailed Phascogale taken as part of the Wombat Forestcare project.
Brush-tailed Phascogales are primarily arboreal, and forage for their diet, which is predominantly large insects, spiders and centipedes, on the trunks and major branches of rough-barked eucalypt trees, fallen logs and amongst litter on the forest floor. Eucalypt nectar may be taken when ironbarks or boxes are flowering.
Hollows in dead or live trees provide preferred den sites, although nests constructed under flaking bark, or in tree stumps are sometimes used but provide a less secure substitute against predators in areas where hollows are scarce. Mating occurs in late autumn - early winter and males die after the breeding season at an age of about one year old. Females give birth to about six young from mid June to early August.
Clearing and fragmentation of preferred habitats combined with changes to the forest structure through timber and firewood cutting, grazing and previous gold mining has impacted upon habitat values. A reduced abundance of hollows limits breeding opportunities and increases exposure to predation from foxes and cats.
The loss of hollow-bearing trees from Victorian native forests has been listed as a potentially threatening process on Schedule 3 of the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988, largely because of the dependence of many vertebrates (including a number of rare species) on this habitat for shelter and nesting.
Management measures for conservation of the Brush-tailed Phascogale
At all known Brush-tailed Phascogale sites planning for prescribed burning operations must ensure that where prime Phascogale habitat is identified it is not destroyed.
South West Victoria
Priority Local Government Areas: City of Greater Geelong, Moorabool Shire, Southern Grampians Shire, Ararat Rural City, Hepburn Shire, Pyrenees Shire
Priority locations South West Victoria
Brisbane Ranges National Park- survey Meredith to Steiglitz and determine current status. Geelong Field Naturalists Club has been assisting with surveys since 2007. Parks Victoria undertakes fox control in areas where Phascogales are found.
Clunes State Forest and Dunach Nature Conservation Reserve - it is proposed to conduct 3 surveys over 10 year period commencing in 2012/2013 and follow up in 2015/16 and 2018/19. There is a need to ensure post and firewood collection does not impact on Phascogale habitat.
Grampians National Park - assess possible sites for future surveys.
Hepburn Regional Park - monitor and control Feral Cat population. Phascogale surveys are carried out every year as part of a long term monitoring program.
Lal Lal - Bungal Historic Area - need to determine suitable survey area.
Mount Beckworth Scenic Reserve - this is a priority area for long term surveys.
Mt Buangor State Park (North West section) - 3 surveys to be conducted over 10 years.
Mt Cole Forest - 3 surveys to be conducted over 10 years.
Percydale Historic & Cultural Features Reserve - further surveys required.
Pyrenees Forest (Warrenmang) - further surveys required.
Ararat Regional Park (Dunneworthy) - conduct 3 surveys over a 10 year period, every 3-4 years.
Trawalla State Forest - poor results from hair tube survey but further survey required.
Wombat Forest (Glenlyon & Trentham) - identify suitable areas before any further surveys.
Wombat Forest (Yandoit) - considered to be an important area with regular surveys being conducted.
North East Victoria
Priority Local Government Areas: Moira Shire, Indigo Shire, Strathbogie Shire, Murrindindi Shire, Mansfield Shire, Benella Rural City
Priority locations in North East Victoria
Barmah State Park - conduct a survey to determine presence and extent of the Phascogale population.
Beechworth Historic Park - ensure records of sightings included in Victorian Biodiversity Atlas.
Chiltern Box-Ironbark National Park - planning to develop appropriate burning regime to ensure Phascogale conservation in prescribed burns was started in 201/12. Parks Victoria will carry out an ongoing fox control program with monitoring.
Roadsides managed by Strathbogie Shire and Vic Roads - conserve roadside habitat by restricting or discourage access, particularly when undertaking roadworks in areas where Phascogales are known to exist.
Eildon National Park ( Jerusalem Inlet and Woolshed Inlet) - previous surveys have failed to record any phascogales at Jerusalem Creek despite suitable habitat being present but further surveys are required. Phascogales previously recorded at Woolshed Creek in 2005.
Mount Samaria State Park - ongoing nest box and hair tube surveys.
Mt Pilot Multipurpose Park - annual surveys conducted, Fox and Feral Cat control being implemented along with improving habitat on adjoining land.
Puckapunyal Army Reserve - ongoing monitoring in conjunction with Department of Defence.
Reef Hills State Park - this is priority area with regular surveys. A kangaroo management plan is being implemented to reduce overgrazing and degradation of ground cover.
Strathbogie State Forest - considered an important area for surveys and management.
North Central Victoria
Priority Local Government Areas: Greater Bendigo City, Loddon Shire, Mount Alexander Shire.
Priority locations in North Central Victoria
In 2009/10 a report was completed by Bennett et.al. which looked at population trends and characteristics across the Phascogales range, including the following sites.
- Bendigo Regional Park (Mandurang)
- Dunolly Nature Conservation Reserve
- Greater Bendigo National Park
- Heathcote-Graytown National Park
- Eppalock Education Area
- Kooyoora State Park
- Wellsford State Forest
- Maldon Historic & Cultural Features Reserve
- Paddys Ranges State Park
- Pilchers Bridge Nature Conservation Reserve - planning underway to involve community groups in management and monitoring.
Further work is planned to analyse genetic data and prepare a report.
During 2013/14 it hoped progress will be made to establish a Conservation Management Network for the Mandurang area focusing on management of Phascogale on private land and surrounding public lands.
Improved fire management prescriptions are being developed to ensure that populations of Brush-tailed Phascogale remain viable in the Bendigo Regional Park, this will focus on reducing the frequency and intensity of prescribed burning in the Park.
Increasing habitat linkages between priority management areas is required to maintain a viable population.
North West Victoria
Key Local Government Areas:</u> Northern Grampians Shire.
Priority locations in North West Victoria
Dalyenong Nature Conservation Reserve - populations trends analysed in 2009. There is a need to ensure known populations are protected from prescribed burning.
- Kara Kara National Park
- Mount Bolangum Nature Conservation Reserve
Priority Local Government Areas: Nillumbik Shire.
Priority locations in Port Phillip area
Kinglake/Warrandyte Habitat Link - this is a high priority area for on-going monitoring of Phascogales. Monitoring post fire recovery of habitat in Kinglake National Park. Artificial nesting hollows are being installed in key areas of the Kinglake Warrandyte Habitat Link. Control of Foxes, Feral Cats and environmental weeds are carried out in this area.
Kinglake National Park (St Andrews area) - assessment of impacts of bushfires on Phascogales.
Department of Environment and Primary Industries (DEPI), Parks Victoria, University of Melbourne. University of Ballarat, Geelong Field Naturalists Club, Field Naturalists Club of Victoria, North East Region: Strathbogie Shire.
The Brush-tailed Phascogale Coordinating Group (BtPCG) has been meeting and coordinating the implementation of the Brush-tailed Phascogale Action Statement (FFG Act) since 1997. The BtPCG is not a recovery team per se, but essentially a working group that coordinates management actions that occur within a variety of woodland and dry forest ecosystems across the State. Since 2000, members of the BtPCG have been conducting systematic monitoring of a selection of the 40 Priority Management Areas, identified in the Action Statement, using the Brush-tailed Phascogale as a ‘focus’ species.
The long-term monitoring data have been analysed and published in an international journal. Holland G. J., Alexander J. S. A., Johnson P., Arnold A. H., Halley M. and Bennett A. F. (2012). Conservation Cornerstones: Capitalising on the endeavours of long-term monitoring projects. Biological Conservation 145: 95 – 101.
- Long term nest box study in the Bendigo area
- Searching for the Brush-tailed Phascogale April 2010-Watch the video clip
- Flora & Fauna Guarantee Action Statement No.79 -link to DSE pdf (209 KB)
- Current projects for threatened species & their habitats
- Record sightings
- Threatened species A-Z
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