Quokkas in Western Australia’s Northcliffe forests are bouncing back strongly from a massive 2015 bushfire.
A survey of the 100,000-hectare fire zone by WWF-Australia, 12 months after the blaze, revealed quokka numbers had fallen from more than 500 to just 39.
But a new survey, conducted in February/March 2018, estimated there are now 192 quokkas– an increase of nearly 400% from the post-fire low.Quokkas in this section of forest have recovered to about 38% of pre-fire numbers.
“This population is like a phoenix rising from the ashes of that devastating bushfire. To see this rate of recovery gives us hope this group will get back to what it was,” said WWF-Australia Species Conservation Manager, Merril Halley.
In areas monitored by cameras, foxes have been detected only twice but cat activity is increasing.
“Our partner in the project, the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions has been undertaking extra control actions to protect them from predators,” said Ms Halley.
The latest survey also revealed feral pigs had damaged nearly 18,000 square metres of quokka habitat – more than 10 times the 1200 square metres they damaged in 2016.
“By damaging vegetation feral pigs can make an area unsuitable for quokkas,” said Ms Halley.
Another discovery is that, three years on from the fire, quokkas have not yet recolonised western and central sections where the damage was most intense and vegetation is taking longer to recover.
Severe fire events like the Northcliffe fire are expected to increase in southern Australia due to climate change and it is important to learn how species like quokkas recover, and what we can do to help a population rebuild.
Quokkas are making their homes in post-fire habitat that has multiple layers of vegetation including a well-developed midstorey, and a dense understorey dominated by sedge species.
“It’s understandable that quokkas feel safer among thicker vegetation. We believe that as forest areas with the worst damage recover, the quokkas will move back in,” said Ms Halley.
The 2018 snapshot of quokka post-fire recovery was generated by surveys at 126 sites, and remote sensor cameras surrounding three known refuge locations.
Mark Symons, Senior Media Officer WWF Australia - firstname.lastname@example.org