As summer comes to an end the environmental officers at Mount Hotham Alpine Resort Management Board (MHARMB) retreat to their offices and the Mountain Pygmy-possums retreat into the boulderfield preparing for their long hibernation over the winter.
The Mountain Pygmy-possum is an elusive species however the most recent “Tunnel of Love” at Mount Little Higginbotham is providing insights into their movements.
MHARMB staff have been monitoring possum activity in the tunnel over the last two summers, utilising microchip readers and remote sensing cameras within the tunnel. 30 individual possums have been identified using the tunnel, predominantly of which are female.
Despite their small size, averaging just 40 grams, possums move incredibly fast and are extremely agile, taking only 15 seconds to travel through the 14.64 m long tunnel.
Possums begin using the tunnel in spring when they awake from hibernation. Tunnel activity declines in late summer, potentially due to possums moving out from the boulderfield habitat to feed on seeds and fruits of surrounding native shrubs. The last recordings in early autumn signify the coming winter.
Although the possums are often too fast for the remote sensing cameras, other native small mammals have been observed using the tunnel including the bush rat and antechinus.
The tunnel enables many native species to expand their habitat range, protects them from traffic collisions and reduces encounters with predators.
Along with ongoing monitoring of the Mount Little Higginbotham tunnel, MHARMB undertakes a range of environmental management programs. Monitoring and control of feral predators reduces predation of the possums, along with other native reptiles and small mammals. Control of weeds within the resort, particularly Willow trees, improves possum habitat and enables native species to re-establish and provide additional food recourses for the possums.
Ongoing protection of the Mountain Pygmy-possum requires an integrated management approach. By improving habitat, reducing predation and linking habitat through tunnels, we are ensuring a genetically healthy population of Mountain Pygmy-possums persists, with the hope that they have the capacity to persists and adapt into the future.