Body condition, breeding time and joey survival rates of the quokka (Setonix brachyurus) are improved in habitats developed for tourism on Rottnest Island, Western Australia
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School of Animal Biology (M092), The University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Highway, Crawley, W.A, 6009, Australia
Online publication date: 2017-05-22
Publication date: 2017-05-22
Hystrix It. J. Mamm. 2017;28(1):48-55

Tourism can modify habitats and can have both positive and negative effects on local wildlife species. Such effects include changes to body condition, reproduction and behaviour, and can significantly affect the long-term fitness of individuals and local populations.

With particular interest in the effects of tourism on the ecology of the quokka (Setonix brachyurus), we investigated the effects of season and habitat type on the body condition and reproduction of this endemic species on Rottnest Island, a popular tourist destination in Western Australia.

We trapped quokkas every season for two years within four habitat types with varying degrees of resource availability for the quokkas: coastal dune, grass/heath, woodland and the settlement areas
that are highly developed for tourism.

We used tail circumference as a measure of body condition, and this was significantly greater in the high resource settlement areas than in the in the other habitat types (p=0.02). Condition was
poorest in summer, a season with low rainfall and scarce food. The condition of males peaked in spring and was related to rainfall in the previous season. The condition of females peaked in winter and declined sharply in spring, likely because females are preparing for and meeting the demands of peak lactation.

A higher proportion of joeys were born in February and March in the settlement areas as opposed to March and April in other habitat types. There was no evidence that the period of seasonal anoestrus experienced by quokkas on the island was reduced or eliminated in the settlement areas. Weaning rates, not birth rates varied between habitat type, and were lowest in the poorly resourced  coastal dunes and highest in the bountiful settlement areas.

Habitats modified by tourism are often considered to have negative impacts on the fitness of local wildlife. This study however, provides an example of how tourism can positively influence the fitness of a vulnerable species, the quokka, through increased body condition and improved joey survival rates. This has implications not just for the conservation management of the Rottnest Island quokka, but also for other species globally persisting in areas exposed to tourism.

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