Australia's endangered bettong reveals how weather effects species distribution

Oct 06, 2011
These are photographs of a) the northern bettong (courtesy of Jeremy Little) and b) the rufous bettong (courtesy of Brad Bateman). Credit: Brad Bateman

Australian scientists studying the reliability of species distribution models for revealing the response of animals to climate change have focused their research on the endangered marsupial, the Northern Bettong. The research, published in Ecography demonstrates that studying weather events, rather than the gradual changes of the climate, offers a clearer insight into the Bettong's movements, range boundaries and likely contact with competitors.

"Scientists often use Species Distribution Models (SDM) to predict how an animal will respond to a changing habitat by describing its distribution in relation to the average climate in the location the species is found," said Brooke Bateman from James Cook University Australia. "However these models fail to take weather events into account, even though short-term changes to temperature and rainfall may cause a species to change its behaviour or even move location."

To understand the importance of weather the team turned to two of Australia's marsupial species the endangered northern bettong (Bettongia tropica) and its rival the rufous bettong (Aepyprymnus rufescens). The endangered bettong is only found in three locations in the woodlands and forests of Queensland in , where rainfall is high and the environment is suitable for its primary , truffles.

The rufous bettong lives in habitat across a board range of temperature and rainfall. Both species are known to occupy the same areas within the drier end of the northern bettongs range, but rarely at the same time.

The team used occurrence records for both species and compared them to climate variables and such as droughts and heatwaves, which affect the bettong's food source and could result in short-term change of behaviour and distribution.

The results showed that the endangered bettong occurred in smaller numbers in areas that were more likely to experience droughts and other fluctuations in short-term weather suitability. Reconstruction of weather patterns over time suggested that the two species of bettong are in a dynamic relationship with each other as their distribution shifts in response to rainfall and temperature.

"Weather determined both and the outcomes of competition between the northern bettong and the more widespread rufous bettong, which were not detected by traditional models which relied on long-term climate averages. We conclude that models based on weather data are needed to make predictions on where and when species are likely to occur, now and in the future."

Explore further: New VertLife project will sprout a forest of family trees

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Global warming threatens Australia's iconic kangaroos

Oct 15, 2008

As concerns about the effects of global warming continue to mount, a new study published in the December issue of Physiological and Biochemical Zoology finds that an increase in average temperature of only two degrees Celsiu ...

Climate change and species distributions

Aug 04, 2008

Scientists have long pointed to physical changes in the Earth and its atmosphere, such as melting polar ice caps, sea level rise and violent storms, as indicators of global climate change. But changes in climate can wreak ...

New Models of Weather Pattern

Dec 09, 2005

For a mathematician, Joseph Biello spends a lot of time thinking about the weather. But the UC Davis assistant professor isn't looking out the office window. He is using mathematical theory to build a model of the Madden-Julian ...

Recommended for you

Tropical fish a threat to Mediterranean Sea ecosystems

16 hours ago

The tropical rabbitfish which have devastated algal forests in the eastern Mediterranean Sea pose a major threat to the entire Mediterranean basin if their distribution continues to expand as the climate ...

Moroccan city outlaws olive trees

17 hours ago

A Moroccan city has banned olive trees because of pollen-linked allergies and set an end-of-the-year deadline for residents to remove them, media reports said Thursday.

User comments : 0