Rare Australian rodents under attack from all sides

5 February 2018


Researcher Janina Kaluza with the rare mouse
Researcher Janina Kaluza with the rare mouse

he continued survival of one of Australia’s rarest rodents, the water mouse, could hinge on significantly increasing the size of development buffer zones around their habitats.

University of Queensland threatened species researcher Nina Kaluza, has spent six years mapping populations of water mice from Central Queensland to the Gold Coast, which she found to be crucially threatened by human and animal disturbances.

Ms Kaluza said water mice (Xeromys myoides), also known as false water rats or yirrkoo, are small nocturnal animals that build large mud nests like termite mounds, where they and their young can escape the highest tides.

“Not only are they beautiful creatures, they are very important for the environment as a key bio-indicator for humans to understand the health of coastal wetlands and the effects of climate change,” she said.

A watermouse on the Maroochy River. Image J. Kaluza“These unique creatures rely on their habitat and a stable hydrology system for their existence, and have been listed as a vulnerable species by the State and Federal Governments."

They are currently under threat from cats, foxes and pigs; and habitat loss from urban, industrial and agricultural development, mining, pollution, and insecticides. 

Bli Bli on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast was a water mouse hot spot, but also an increasingly popular real estate area. Developmental changes on land adjacent to water mice habitat were crucial to their survival.

 J. Kaluza.There were problems with feral invaders, with foxes filmed at seven out of 10 nests monitored along the Maroochy River, Sunshine Coast in 2015 and 2016. Subsequent pest abatement resulted in the eradication of six foxes at this site.

Ms Kaluza, who monitors the footage of 50 cameras, including night vision, said it was important to map and monitor water mice nests to understand water mice behaviour, the impacts on them, and to identify those populations most at risk.

 Fox investigating and disturbing water mice nests at the Maroochy River.This research has contributed to the Commonwealth Government’s referral guideline (2015) and she said the water mice were also found in unknown numbers in the Northern Territory and Papua New Guinea.

Ms Kaluza is also a consultant to WetlandCare Australia and Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service.

Media: Nina Kaluza, 1mightywatermouse@gmail.com, +61 (0)401 018 060.

Images: Top - researcher Janina Kaluza with the rare mouse; top left, a watermouse on the Maroochy River; above right, two water mice maintaining a nest; left, fox investigating and disturbing water mice nests at the Maroochy River. Images J. Kaluza.