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Native Mice and Rats

Native Mice and Rats

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Native Mice and Rats

Longitud:
280 página
2 horas
Publicado:
Dec 17, 2007
ISBN:
9780643099319
Formato:
Libro

Descripción

Australia’s native rodents are the most ecologically diverse family of Australian mammals. There are about 60 living species – all within the subfamily Murinae – representing around 25 per cent of all species of Australian mammals. They range in size from the very small delicate mouse to the highly specialised, arid-adapted hopping mouse, the large tree rat and the carnivorous water rat.

Native Mice and Rats describes the evolution and ecology of this much-neglected group of animals. It details the diversity of their reproductive biology, their dietary adaptations and social behaviour. The book also includes information on rodent parasites and diseases, and concludes by outlining the changes in distribution of the various species since the arrival of Europeans as well as current conservation programs.

Publicado:
Dec 17, 2007
ISBN:
9780643099319
Formato:
Libro

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Native Mice and Rats - Bill Breed

NATIVE MICE

AND RATS

NATIVE MICE

AND RATS

BILL BREED AND FRED FORD

© Bill Breed and Fred Ford 2007

All rights reserved. Except under the conditions described in the Australian Copyright Act 1968 and subsequent amendments, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, duplicating or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owner. Contact CSIRO PUBLISHING for all permission requests.

National Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-Publication entry Breed, Bill.

Native mice and rats.

Bibliography.

Includes index.

ISBN 9780643091665 (pbk.).

I. Mice – Australia. 2. Rats – Australia. I. Ford, Fred. II. Title. (Series : Australian natural history series).

599.35

Published by

CSIRO PUBLISHING

150 Oxford Street (PO Box 1139)

Collingwood VIC 3066

Australia

Front cover: Spinifex hopping mouse emerging from burrow

Back cover (clockwise from top left): Golden-backed tree rat, delicate mouse,

western pebble-mound mouse, desert mouse

(photos by Jiri Lochman/Lochman Transparencies)

Set in 10.5/14 Palatino

Cover and text design by James Kelly

Typeset by Palmer Higgs

Printed in Australia by Ligare

CONTENTS

Preface and acknowledgements

1Introduction

2Diversity

3Distribution

4Origins and evolution

5Reproduction

6Diet and gastrointestinal tract

7Populations and communities

8Social organisation and behaviour

9Parasites and disease (by Andrew Breed)

10Conservation

Glossary

Bibliography

Index

PREFACE AND ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

This book has been written by two biologists with very different backgrounds. Both of us, however, share a love of the natural world and have studied the biology of Australia’s native mice and rats extensively. We have both become fascinated by their diversity and the evolutionary relationships between the species within this group.

The book is the product of many years’ work and has had a gestation period of over six years. It is an attempt to summarise the information obtained about this group of mammals during the last 25 or so years. There are around 60 species of living rodents in Australia today. At least seven others have become extinct since the arrival of Europeans. It is perhaps surprising that the native mice and rats seem to have suffered as much, if not more, than the marsupials during this time.

One would have thought that by now the taxonomy of the group would have been thoroughly worked out, but this is not the case. Even the two authors of this book had a bit of a tussle agreeing on a mutually acceptable classification system. Almost everyone who has worked on the evolutionary biology of these rodents agrees that there are two major groups: one, an ancient group that has been in Australia for at least four million years and the other a more recent group, the ancestors of which probably arrived here one to two million years ago. However the relationships between and within the members of the older group in particular are currently in a state of flux.

In Chapter 1 we briefly indicate the different taxonomies in the hope that anyone familiar with any particular classification system will be able to relate this to the others as well as to the one we have adopted. Not only is the taxonomy of the major groups not universally agreed upon but, at the present time, there are several species still awaiting formal description. For instance, the delicate mouse, Pseudomys delicatulus, one of the first native rodents to be discovered and which was illustrated by John Gould in his Mammals of Australia in 1860, turns out to be two or possibly three species. Similarly, whether the sole Australian species of prehensile-tailed rat is the same species as one of the many species in Papua New Guinea is not known at this stage. There is also a species of native rat in the genus Rattus that occurs in central Queensland which has still has not been formally described.

In spite of these ‘unknowns’, it is clear that we do know far more about the native mice and rats of this country than was the case when the last book, The Rodents of Australia, by Chris Watts and Heather Aslin, was written on this topic 25 years ago. In our book, we focus on information obtained since that time. Clearly a book of this nature, covering such a broad field, will reflect the interests of the authors. We have tried to cover as much as possible about the biology of these animals, but there will be some areas that we have inadvertently neglected. One area of debate between us was whether or not to mention individual research workers by name who we believe have made a substantial contribution to the field. After some discussion, we agreed not to do so, although at the end of the book we give a reasonably extensive list of references for those who wish for more detailed information. In the writing of this book we also debated whether to use the formal Latin names of the individual species or the English names. In an attempt to make the text easier to read for the non-specialist we mostly opted for the latter but we included the Latin names together with the English names in Chapters 1 and 2.

A constantly recurring theme in this book is that, despite the Old Endemic rodents arriving in this country far more recently than marsupials or monotremes, there is much diversity in their body form, in various aspects of their ecology, behaviour and social organisation, the food they eat and the associated dental morphology and the proportions of the rest of the gastro-intestinal tract, as well as their reproductive biology. In fact, diversity in body form and function seems to be the hallmark of this Old Endemic group of mice and rats. Rodents clearly have a very different origin from that of the two other groups of land-dwelling mammals, the marsupials and monotremes. They entered Australia from Asia and were the only land mammals to manage the sea crossing from South-East Asia until humans followed several million years later. Since the rodents arrived on this landmass they have adapted to most of the continent’s natural environments and contribute a very important component of biodiversity that complements, rather than clashes, with the older marsupial and monotreme species.

Australian native rodents do not adapt well to disturbance of their habitats and unlike rodents in some other parts of the world, they have not become pest species except for a few localised cases. It is the introduced house mouse, not a native rodent, which causes millions of dollars’ damage in the grain-growing areas of southern Australia. Only in the sugar cane fields of north Queensland have any species of native rodent caused any major economic loss. This contrasts markedly with the damage caused by native rodents of South-East Asia and, to a lesser extent, Africa.

If this book enhances awareness of this relatively little known group of mammals that makes up around 25 per cent of all mammal species of Australia, and this increased knowledge results in a greater effort to conserve what is left of this important native mammal group, then we will be well pleased and feel that one of our main aims has been achieved.

A book of this nature would not have been possible without the help of a number of people. In particular, we would like to thank Andrew Breed of The University of Queensland for writing Chapter 9 on parasites and disease and Mike Kokkin of The University of South Australia for allowing us to reproduce his unpublished diagrams of the gastrointestinal tracts. Alice MacDougall generously contributed some of the line drawings of rodent genera. Many colleagues at The University of Adelaide helped in a variety of ways. In particular, we would like to thank Chris Leigh and Tavik Morgenstern of the Discipline of Anatomical Sciences, Faculty of Health Sciences; Peter Self and Lyn Waterhouse of Adelaide Microscopy for assistance with the microscopy; numerous honours and PhD students of The University of Adelaide, as well as Brian Miller, and Matthew and Martin Breed, who acted as assistants on various field trips. Over the years a number of specimens were kindly given to us by Chris Watts and Peter Baverstock who, at that time, worked at the field station of the Institute of Medical and Veterinary Science, at Gilles Plains. To all these individuals we extend our sincere thanks. The Australian Museum and CSIRO Australian National Wildlife Collection kindly allowed us access to their rodent collections and Steve Van Dyck of The Queensland Museum and David Stemmer of The South Australian Museum kindly loaned us skeletal material. In addition we thank Melissa Bauer, Peter Bird, Ron Sinclair, Mike Thompson, Clive Crouch, Steve Morton, Mark Adams, Ben Luxton, Jenny Washington, Eleanor Peirce, Helen Owens and John Reid for assisting us in various ways. Several people have provided photographs that we have included in this book. In particular we would like to thank Tony Robinson, Peter Canty, Jiri Lochman, Linda Broome, Uli Kloecker, Jim Forrest, Steve Doyle, Dave Taggart, Libby Olds, Jim Parke and Mike Cermak for the photographs they provided. We would also like to thank the Gomboc Gallery for giving us permission to include the drawings by Ella Fry.

Thanks also to James Menzies, Robert Brandle and Ian Hume who critically read various chapters. We should especially like to extend our sincere thanks to our long-suffering partners: Esther Breed, who typed the first drafts of the book and who has meticulously read and commented upon every chapter, and Karen Ford who put up with more cussing over problematic passages than was necessary.

To our reviewers, Ken Aplin and Chris Watts, we also extend out deepest gratitude, and to Terry Dawson who provided comments on an early version of the manuscript. Finally we thank Nick Alexander for his patience over the years and his encouragement to us to keep going to the end, as various deadlines have come and gone.

Bill Breed

Fred Ford

1

INTRODUCTION

The most conspicuous native mammals of Australia are, of course, the marsupials. Less well known is the fact that around half of all species of Australian mammals are not marsupials but belong to that other large group of living mammals that includes ourselves – the eutherians or so-called placental mammals. Many of the species of eutherian mammals in Australia are native rats and mice that belong to the Order Rodentia – a group that makes up around 40 per cent of all mammalian species worldwide. The remainder of the Australian eutherians is made up of bats, together with an assortment of seals, whales and dolphins.

Despite the fact that two species of native rodents – the water rat and the bush rat – live within, or close to, our city boundaries, there is a general lack of awareness about these native mammal species. Hedley Finlayson, a chemist working at The University of Adelaide, who was also Honorary Curator of mammals at the South Australian museum, pioneered studies on the natural history of mammals in central Australia in the 1930s. In his 1945 book, The Red Centre, he states:

… there is a widespread idea amongst Australians that all the ‘native’ mammals are marsupials. But nowhere in the country can that opinion be proved more fallacious than in the Centre, where the indigenous rodents vastly predominate numerically over the marsupials …

As well as the two major groups of living mammals, marsupials and eutherians, Australia is also home to the only two lineages of living monotremes, the platypus and echidna. It thus has a unique and diverse mammalian fauna that is not matched by any other landmass apart from New Guinea.

The origins of eutherian mammals in Australia are dramatically different from those of monotremes and marsupials. Whereas the ancestors of modern marsupials and monotremes have probably been in Australia for over 100 million years, as they were part of the original mammalian fauna of the ancient southern continent Gondwana, the native mice and rats originated in Asia and arrived in Australia much more recently from the north. Unlike the house mouse, the black rat and the brown (or Norway) rat, which were introduced by Europeans between 200 and 300 years ago, the ancestors of the Australian native mice and rats entered Australia long before humans arrived with one or more groups having been here for at least four million years.

Although many species of native rodents are now restricted in their distribution, or have even recently become extinct, knowledge of their biology has increased considerably in recent years. Since 1981 when the last book on native mice and rats, The Rodents of Australia, by Chris Watts and Heather Aslin was published, we have learnt much about the distribution and abundance of these animals, as well as their general biology. The relationships between the species, and to mice and rats occurring outside Australia, are also better understood. Furthermore, several new species of Australian rodents have been recognised and described in the recent past. In this book we present a general account of the diverse biology and natural history of Australian native mice and rats, with particular emphasis on the data obtained over the last 25 years.

What are the Australian native mice and rats?

The native mice and rats of Australia are very different from the small native marsupials which are sometimes referred to as ‘marsupial mice’, a term which is generally applied to species of marsupials in the genus Antechinus. However, the body shape and way of life of Antechinus is much more like that of a large shrew than it is to a mouse and, like a shrew, it is insectivorous. In contrast to these species, all the native Australian mice and rats have highly specialised teeth which are very different in form from those of small marsupials as well as other groups of eutherian mammals. Nevertheless, mice and rats exhibit a considerable diversity in their diet which, in the Australian species, ranges from seed, grain, grass, fruit, insects to even fish or meat. These Australian mice and rats consequently exhibit a wide variety of ways of life, and can thus be found in various habitats ranging from freshwater swamps, riverbanks, grasslands and forests to deserts, alpine regions, the seashore and mangroves.

In spite of the native Australian mice and rats exhibiting numerous body forms (see illustrations), they are all similar to each other in the general arrangement of their teeth – with all having only two upper and two lower front teeth or incisors and, in this respect, they differ from most other orders of mammals. Their incisors have a hard layer of enamel on their front surface (see Chapter 6) which often has a distinctive orange or yellow colour. In the introduced house mouse the incisors have a characteristic notch (see Figure 1.1), but this is not present in the native species. Apart from

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