Burrowing by translocated boodie (Bettongia lesueur) populations alters soils but has limited effects on vegetation

Date: 02, Mar, 2021
Author(s):   Palmer, B.J., Valentine, L.E., Lohr, C.A., Daskalova, G.N., Hobbs, R.J.
Publisher: Ecology and Evolution

Digging and burrowing mammals modify soil resources, creating shelter for other animals and influencing vegetation and soil biota. The use of conservation translocations to reinstate the ecosystem functions of digging and burrowing mammals is becoming more common. However, in an increasingly altered world, the roles of translocated populations, and their importance for other species, may be different. Boodies (Bettongia lesueur), a commonly translocated species in Australia, construct extensive warrens, but how their warrens affect soil properties and vegetation communities is unknown. We investigated soil properties, vegetation communities, and novel ecosystem elements (specifically non-native flora and fauna) on boodie warrens at three translocation sites widely distributed across the species’ former range. We found that soil moisture and most soil nutrients were higher, and soil compaction was lower, on warrens in all sites and habitat types. In contrast, there were few substantial changes to vegetation species richness, cover, composition, or productivity. In one habitat type, the cover of shrubs less than 1 m tall was greater on warrens than control plots. At the two sites where non-native plants were present, their cover was greater, and they were more commonly found on boodie warrens compared to control plots. Fourteen species of native mammals and reptiles were recorded using the warrens, but, where they occurred, the scat of the non-native rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) was also more abundant on the warrens. Together, our results suggest that translocated boodie populations may be benefiting both native and non-native flora and fauna. Translocated boodies, through the construction of their warrens, substantially alter the sites where they are released, but this does not always reflect their historic ecosystem roles.