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Censuses were taken of three common species of small mammals at forest sites in four regions in the Australian Capital Territory and New South Wales. Numbers of Agile AntechinusAntechinus agilis were best predicted by indices of abundance of tree hollows and invertebrate food resources, whereas numbers of Brown AntechinusAntechinus stuartii were associated most consistently with tree hollows and then numbers of logs and coexisting Bush RatsRattus fuscipes. Rats were not associated consistently with any single habitat components, but generally favoured sites of high vegetation density with litter or logs providing ground-level cover.Rattus fuscipes was the only species to show a difference in abundance between forest types, being 2.6 times more numerous in tall open-forest than open-forest in one study area. Radio-tracking confirmed that the habitat components most strongly associated with the local abundance ofA. stuartii andR. fuscipes were used as day time shelters by each species.

Because the three study species are common in forest environments in eastern Australia, they are not considered important from perspectives of conservation or management. However, in local areas where common species reach high numbers, they will be more important in controlling energy, nutrient and resource flows than rare species, and are more likely to be involved in interaction webs and co-evolutionary relationships with suites of other species. The tree hollows, logs and other habitat components associated with high local abundances of our common study species are also components required by many less common and threatened species of vertebrates. In view of these observations, we suggest that ‘hot spots’ of common species may act as uniquely important indices of local resource and species richness, and thus of local forest quality. An exciting and profitable line of research would be to compare the performance of a ‘common species index’ with more traditional measures of forest quality such as presence of threatened species, species richness or structure-based indicators.

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References

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Bausell, R. B. and Li, Y.-F. 2002 Power Analysis for Experimental Research. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.
Benson, D. H. and Howell, J. (1990). Sydney's vegetation 1788-1988: utilization, degradation and rehabilitation. Proceedings of the Ecological Society of Australia 16: 115-127.
Bradford, S.L. 1976. The vegetation of Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, Sydney. Honours thesis, University of New South Wales: Sydney.
Brown, J. H. 1995 Macroecology. University of Chicago Press: Chicago.
Bureau of Meteorology. 1988 Climatic Averages Australia. Australian Government Publishing Service: Canberra.
Calver, M. C., Bradley, J. S. and Wright, I. W. 1999. Towards scientific contributions in applying the precautionary principle: an example from southwestern Australia. Pacific Conservation Biology 5: 63-72.
Catling, P. C. and Burt, R. J. 1995. Studies of the ground-dwelling mammals of eucalypt forests in south-eastern New South Wales: the effect of habitat variables on distribution and abundance. Wildlife Research 22: 271-288.
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Di Stefano, J. 2001. Power analysis and sustainable forest management. Forest Ecology and Management 154: 141-153.
Eby, P. and Lunney, D. (eds) 2002 Managing the Grey-headed Flying-fox as a Threatened Species in New South Wales. Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales: Mosman, NSW.
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Fraser, L. and Vickery, J. W. 1937. The ecology of the upper Williams River and Barrington Tops districts. Proceedings of the Linnean Society of New South Wales 62: 269-283.
Frawley, K. J. and Semple, N. M. (eds) 1988 Australia's Ever Changing Forests: Proceedings of the First National Conference on Australian Forest History. Department of Geography and Oceanography, Australian Defence Force Academy: Campbell, Canberra.
Frith, H. J. 1973 Wildlife Conservation. Angus and Robertson: Sydney.
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Knight, E. H. and Fox, B. J. 2000. Does habitat structure mediate the effects of forest fragmentation and human-induced disturbance on the abundance of Antechinus stuartii? Australian Journal of Zoology 48: 577-595.
Krebs, C. J. 1989 Ecological Methodology. Benjamin/Cummings: Menlo Park, California.
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Lazenby-Cohen, K. A. and Cockburn, A. 1991. Social and foraging components of the home range in Antechinus stuartii (Dasyuridae: Marsupialia). Australian Journal of Ecology 16: 301-307.
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