A critically endangered possum species has been found using people’s gardens to feed and rest, suggesting urban backyards could be a haven for the marsupial.
The discovery by a researcher at The University of Western Australia highlights the conservation potential of residential gardens as valuable habitat for native wildlife.
Bronte Van Helden, a PhD student from UWA Albany’s Centre for Natural Resource Management, and her team, supported by a scholarship from The Western Australian Biodiversity Science Institute, spent a year surveying private gardens in Albany to track how wildlife, particularly mammals, lived within residential gardens.
The study, published in Animal Conservation, found that certain species, such as the critically endangered western ringtail possum, lived exclusively in gardens for months at a time and residential gardens could exclusively support the species for an extended duration.
The team fitted radio-transmitters to 20 western ringtail possums captured in private gardens to track their movements and interactions with their environment, including indigenous and non-indigenous plants and man-made structures.
“Over half of all the females we captured in gardens had pouch young, suggesting that not only can they live there, but they can also reproduce and potentially contribute to the population.”Bronte Van Helden
They recorded 846 locations, all exclusively within residential gardens, over a period of 103 days.
These were classified into three behaviour types, including foraging, daytime resting and night-time non-foraging activities like moving, to understand how the possums interacted with their surroundings.
The possums used non-indigenous plants more frequently than indigenous plants to forage, and used fabricated structures, such as roofs, as a refuge.
Ms Van Helden said the findings suggested that the resources in residential landscapes were sufficient to support the species.
“The western ringtail possum used gardens exclusively, even when these areas bordered native urban bushland, suggesting that there are enough resources in residential areas to support the species,” Ms Van Helden said.
“Over half of all the females we captured in gardens had pouch young, suggesting that not only can they live there, but they can also reproduce and potentially contribute to the population.”
She said gardens provided valuable habitats for wildlife and were equally important as urban bushland.
“As novel urban ecosystems continue to expand, the inclusion of gardens in wildlife management plans will greatly increase our ability to conserve wildlife in urban habitats,” she said.