Re-introducing ecosystem engineers to grassy ecosystems

Project name: Re-introducing ecosystem engineers to grassy ecosystems of south-eastern Australia: a boon for agriculture, biodiversity and ecosystem processes?

Digging marsupials, such as bandicoots, potoroos and bettongs, have been all but lost from many grassy ecosystems in south-eastern Australia due to habitat loss and predation by introduced predators.

These species feed on underground fungi, tubers and bulbs, seeds, fruit and invertebrates. Digging marsupials are often considered ‘ecosystem engineers’ because they disturb large quantities of soil as they forage, which has the effect of recycling organic matter and nutrients, dispersing spores and seeds, and creating spaces in the soil that increase water infiltration and improve soil structure.

Re-introducing locally extinct digging mammals to farmland areas may bring benefits for agricultural productivity (through improved soil health and other ecosystem processes), ecosystem services (such as carbon sequestration) and biodiversity conservation. However, the effects of re-introducing such ecosystem engineers has not been rigorously tested in agricultural production systems.

This project will study the effects of re-introducing an ecosystem engineer – the eastern barred bandicoot Perameles gunnii – on soil productivity (chemistry, structure, moisture and biota), biodiversity (plants, invertebrates, reptiles) and ecosystem processes (soil carbon, nutrient cycling) in a sheep grazing enterprise.

This project is only possible through a collaboration with Tiverton Agricultural Investment Fund, who own and manage Tiverton, a 1,000 ha sheep grazing property on the Victorian Volcanic Plain that supports nationally Endangered temperate native grasslands.Recently, a 19 km long predator-proof fence was erected around Tiverton and cats, foxes and rabbits eradicated in preparation for the re-introduction of the nationally Vulnerable eastern barred bandicoot.

Team members

Project partners

  • Securing Food Water and the Environment Research Focus Area (La Trobe University)
  • Odonata
  • Tiverton Agricultural Investment Fund