One of Australia’s rarest rodents, the water mouse, has been found during one of the largest fauna monitoring project on the Sunshine Coast.
One of Australia’s rarest rodents, the water mouse, has been found during one of the largest fauna monitoring project on the Sunshine Coast. Kieran Aland

Development threat to ‘mighty mouse’

IT MAY be only 10cm long and weigh less than a chocolate bar, but one of Australia's rarest rodents appears to be holding its own on the Sunshine Coast.

The native water mouse - xeromys myoides - has been spotted at Bells Creek during the largest animal-monitoring project in environmental reserves managed by the Sunshine Coast Council.

Listed as vulnerable in Queensland and found in only three areas of Australia, the water mouse relies on mangrove and wetland ecosystems for food and shelter.

For more than 40 years, the water mouse was thought to have been wiped out on the Sunshine Coast, until a number of nests were discovered during a preliminary study in 2012.

Sunshine Coast project co-ordinator for water mouse research and monitoring, Nina Kaluza, was part of that study, the findings of which were recorded in the Queensland Parks and Wildlife WildNet database.

Up to 280 nests were found along the Maroochy River area, Glasshouse Mountains Creek and over a 1.7ha area at Pumicestone Passage.

In 2013, Ms Kaluza dis

covered a water mouse nest just 20m off the 17th tee at the Pelican Waters golf course.

Numbers of the "mighty water mouse", as Ms Kaluza has nicknamed it, have been reduced due to habitat destruction, changes to the river system, predatory feral animals and human activity.

"The biggest threat to them is development and

recreational usage in these areas," she said. "They can't stand a fast change. When it's development they don't seem to adapt.

"Golf courses are a major problem to this species."

Surveying for the Sunshine Coast Council's $570,000, four-year animal-monitoring project, began in December 2013.

The results are expected to help the council improve conservation management.

Division 2 Councillor Tim Dwyer said the council had paired the water mouse sightings with high recorded numbers of introduced black rats, and would investigate whether they were a threat to the native water mouse.

"Work has only just begun and already it's giving us useful information which may prevent the loss of

important species from our reserves," he said. The first two years of the multi-phase project will

focus on data-gathering by specialist crews across 10 Coast reserves.

This information will then be used to develop a fauna monitoring program.

Key Findings from round one of fauna monitoring (December 2013)

Ben Bennett Bushland Park

A high density and abundance of ground dwelling mammals have been found including the yellow footed antechinus (antechinus flavipes). This species is susceptible to habitat fragmentation yet interestingly has been found in this relatively small, highly isolated reserve which is surrounded by urban development. This suggests Ben Bennett Bushland Park is even more ecologically significant than previously thought.

Fact: the male of this species engages in such frenzied mating that its immune system becomes compromised; resulting in stress related death before it is one year old!

Upper Mooloolah Nature Refuge

There has been an unconfirmed sighting of the endangered Coxen Fig parrot. Field ecologists will undertake a follow up 'tree watch' to confirm their sighting. This is one of the smallest and least known Australian parrots. It is a highly endangered subspecies of the Double-eyed Fig Parrot. The main cause of the decline in range and population is the clearing of lowland rainforests and logging of rainforest trees.

Fact: In 2000 it was estimated that there are no more than 100 mature individuals of the subspecies left, with the population severely fragmented and continuing to decline

Bells Creek Riparian Reserve

The endangered water mouse has been found in the Bells Creek Riparian Reserve. The water mouse is found in only three areas of Australia. It is listed as Vulnerable in Queensland and is ranked nationally as a high priority for conservation. This little critter weighs in at around 40g and dines on crabs, shellfish, mud lobsters and marine flatworms. Little is known about the life cycle and breeding patterns of this species. Since their food and nutrients are generally found amongst the mangroves, the lifespan of the water mouse is highly dependent upon the preservation of the mangrove forest.

Fact: The water mouse is one of Australia's rarest rodents and weighs just 40g-the same as a wafer bar of chocolate.

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