Planting for possums: prime pickings or prohibited provender? A discussion paper from a horticultural and wildlife care perspective.
Claire deLacey, Steven Chamberlain, 2007. "Planting for possums: prime pickings or prohibited provender? A discussion paper from a horticultural and wildlife care perspective.", Pest or Guest: The Zoology of Overabundance, Daniel Lunney, Peggy Eby, Pat Hutchings, Shelley Burgin
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Although the common brushtail possum Trichosurus vulpecula Kerr is known to occur throughout most of the eastern parts of mainland Australia, it is now most frequently encountered in the urban and suburban areas of the eastern seaboard and major towns and cities of other states, its distribution and abundance in native forests and woodlands is in decline. The species is perceived as being common in urban and suburban areas: as a result, government departments, pest control businesses and volunteer wildlife organisations commonly receive calls from residents requesting that ‘problem’ brushtail possums be removed from their property; others simply remove the animals themselves, justifying their actions on the grounds that the animals ‘belong in the bush’, despite research showing that the survival rate of translocated possums is low.
In this discussion paper, we briefly review the factors contributing to the number of brushtail possums in urban areas, and review the effectiveness of commonly used deterrents and methods of removing them from a site. In addition, we propose a more positive approach which has two principal objectives: reducing the use of deterrents, trapping, removal, relocation, or euthanasia (where other means of dealing with them have failed) by those who wish to deter possums; and to provide information for residents who wish to encourage brushtail possums into their gardens. This approach is based on the largely untested assumption that it is possible to influence brushtail possum densities based on a site's planting regime. Based on evidence of the relationships between the diet of native arboreal folivores and plant defence mechanisms (which are most pronounced in native plant species), we advocate the use of native tree and shrub species of local provenance in urban and suburban gardens: this may help to maintain brushtail possum densities which are more akin to densities recorded in natural areas than is likely to be the case in horticultural settings. Positive corollaries of this approach are the reduction in the potential for the spread of weed species in urban areas, and the potential to extend available habitat and resources for other native species. A provisional list of plant species is provided (suitable primarily for the eastern mainland states), where species are suggested based on the combined experience and knowledge of wildlife carers, ecologists and scientific literature.