Life history traits (schedules of birth and death) determine population growth and are therefore important predictors of species extinction. Australia has 6% of mammal species but > 35% of the world’s modern mammal extinctions. In the past, widespread mammal declines affected temperate and arid southern habitats, but since the 1970s, tropical savannas have also been losing their native mammal fauna. The widespread loss of marsupial top predators such as the northern quoll is especially alarming. Among the most seriously declining tropical species are several small dasyurid marsupials with the strategy of male die-off, or semelparity, in which all males die soon after their first mating season. Among mammals, this life cycle occurs only in some (not all) species of insect-eating marsupials. Our goal in this new project (beginning in 2012) is to explain the exceptionally diverse life history strategies of carnivorous marsupials, and how these interact with climate, prey supply and prey seasonal predictability to inﬂuence extinction. We are investigating potential reasons for tropical mammal losses, by studying species characteristics associated with past and current decline, and interactions with feral predators. We are interested in the reasons for survival of northern quolls in the arid and semi-arid Pilbara region, which may be their last mainland stronghold. We are also studying evolutionary ecology of the enigmatic little red kaluta, a Pilbara endemic with the most extreme form of male die-off. We will apply the quoll, kaluta and other dasyurid data to models to better understand the evolution of mammalian semelparity.
Future Fellowship AwardFT110100191The role of life history and food supply in the extinction of carnivorous marsupials