Species profile

Northern Bettong

Northern Bettong

Range and abundance

The Northern Bettong is restricted to a narrow band of relatively moist eucalypt forests on the margins of rainforest in the wet tropics of north Queensland. There are four known populations: Mt Windsor, south-west of Cooktown; Mt Spurgeon, near Brooklyn; Lamb Range, south-west of Cairns, and the Coane Range (Mount Zero-Taravale), north-west of Townsville. The major extant population occurs on the Lamb Range and may number several thousand individuals; all other populations appear small. A fifth population which occurred in the Ravenshoe area has not been definitively recorded since the 1920s.

Description

The Northern Bettong is a small, grey, lightly-built macropod with a low black crest on the end of its tail. It holds its front paws closely to its chest, and moves with a low, springy hop. It grows to just over 30 cm with a tail to 34 cm and an average weight of 1.2 kg.

Ecology

The Northern Bettong specialises on the underground fruiting bodies of fungi (truffles), particularly during the wetter months of the year. During the dry season, its diet switches to the fleshy stems of Cockatoo Grass and lilies; herbs, invertebrates, fruits and seeds make up minor components of its diet. The Northern Bettong helps disperse the mycrorrhizal fungi that are symbiotic with the roots of Eucalyptus and Allocasuarina trees.

Threats

Throughout Australia, bettongs (various species) are extremely vulnerable to predation from introduced predators, particularly foxes. At present, the Northern Bettong is outside the range of the fox, and the establishment of the fox in north Queensland would pose a major threat to the survival of the species. However, feral cats occur throughout the range of the Northern Bettong.

Northern Bettongs are also threatened by loss of habitat. A reduction of fire in eucalypt forests across the wet tropics of north Queensland has resulted in the ‘capture’ of extensive areas of these forests by rainforest plants, dense regrowth of Allocasaurina saplings and the weed Lantana. The dense understorey that results shades out the grassy understorey relied upon by the Northern Bettong for food.

The small size of most remaining populations of Northern Bettong mean they are especially susceptible to extinction, and the isolation of remaining populations means that recolonisation of suitable habitat will be difficult.


 

What is AWC doing?

AWC purchased Mount Zero-Taravale sanctuary in part to conserve the Coane Range population of the Northern Bettong. AWC has restored a conservation-oriented fire regime on Mount Zero-Taravale with the aim of limiting the ‘capture’ of wet sclerophyll forest by rainforest plants, Allocasuarina saplings and lantana. In addition, AWC is implementing the broadscale restoration of wet sclerophyll forests on Mount Zero Taravale, thinning the dense understorey over extensive areas to promote the growth of a grassy understorey. This work has been conducted in part by the Girringun Rangers.

AWC has directed considerable research effort to monitoring the Northern Bettong on Mount Zero-Taravale and understanding its ecology. AWC sponsored a PhD project by Brooke Bateman (now Dr Bateman) on the distribution of the bettong and its resources, and the response of both to changing environmental conditions. AWC is currently monitoring the outcomes of the wet sclerophyll restoration project using a rigorous design, with replicate matched treatment and control areas, and reference sites.

Did you know:

The Northern Bettong is closely related to the Woylie or Brush-tailed Bettong (Bettongia penicillata), once widely distributed across south-east and south-west Australia. AWC has reintroduced populations of the Woylie to Scotia, Yookamurra and Karakamia sanctuaries in southern Australia; these play an important role in conservation of the species, which has suffered a major decline in the wild.