UWA’s Leonie Valentine and co-authors recently examined how small-scale digging activities of the southern brown bandicoot (Isoodon obesulus) influence broader-scale landscape processes by modifying soil and litter properties, trapping organic matter and seeds and altering seedling recruitment. Valentine and colleagues examined environmental characteristics of the bandicoot’s foraging pits and found they typically contained a higher moisture content and lower hydrophobicity than undisturbed soil; as well as higher amounts of fine litter material, and lower amounts of coarse litter. Foraging pits are likely to provide a conducive microhabitat for litter decomposition, potentially reducing litter loads and enhancing nutrient decomposition. Seedling recruitment for native plant species was also higher in areas with artificial diggings.
The majority of Australian digging mammals are threatened, with many suffering substantial population and range contraction. However, their persistence in landscapes plays an important role in maintaining the health and function of ecosystems.
Valentine L, M Bretz, KX Ruthrof, R Fisher, GE Hardy & PA Fleming (2016). Scratching beneath the surface: Bandicoot bioturbation contributes to ecosystem processes. Austral Ecology e-view doi:10.1111/aec.12428.