Hello possum – climate change is threatening WA’s possums

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Climate change is threatening WA’s possumsWestern Australia’s south-western possum population is under threat from climate change and the destruction of their natural habitat.

Researchers at Edith Cowan University’s Centre for Eco System Management has uncovered that climate change has left Western Australian possums with only two choices: adapt or migrate.

The study’s lead researcher Dr Shaun Molloy said the natural habit of the possums (or koomal as they’re called in the local language) is “both shifting and contracting due to climate change”.

“The clearing of native bush and the effects of jarrah dieback has made the two survival options, migrate and adapt, particularly difficult,” he said.

“In Western Australia we’ve lost a huge amount of native vegetation and what’s left tends to be in small patches, or fragments.

“Because of that fragmentation movement between different habitats becomes very difficult for koomal when the bush is fragmented because they won’t cross open areas.

“Those small patches also make adaptation difficult because small areas of bush don’t tend to support a full range of plant species and natural processes such as access to light, the movement of water and air, and the movement of genetic material, are highly disturbed.”

The team used what is known as Species Distribution Models (SDMs) to forecast the likely impacts of climate change for the possum. In addition to their modelling, their results were bolstered by radio tracking and observation of local fauna.

“Our research shows the koomal will probably split into two distinct groups, much like has been predicted for the Jarrah Forest and other species such as the ngwayir, or western ringtail possum” said Dr Molloy.

“One group will be isolated in the Darling Scarp inland from Perth extending south to around Dwellingup while a second group will be confined to a band along the south coast of the South West corner.”

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