UNE researcher discovers marsupials’ secret to surviving after a bushfire

Published 11 June 2015

Researchers from the University of New England have discovered how a little Australian marsupial mouse survives in the aftermath of bushfires by using topor to save energy.

Antechinus stuartii (Photo credit Fritz Geiser)

Antechinus stuartii (Photo credit Fritz Geiser)

UNE Zoologist Dr Clare Stawski says the brown antechinus (Antechnius stuartii) spends its days in torpor after a bushfire, which is where it reduces its body temperature and metabolic rate to survive on reduced food and forages at night.

“There’s been an increase in bushfires in Australia and we are interested in how animals survive this,” said Dr Stawski.

This is the first study to find that torpor can help an animal survive the aftermath of a fire.

“During torpor an animals’ body temperature falls and its metabolism, breathing and heart rate slows which gives it the ability to save energy.”

Dr Stawski along with other colleagues compared two groups of the brown antechinus in the Guy Fawkes National Park of New South Wales.

One group was in an area where a prescribed burn was undertaken while the other was in an unburnt area.

“Radio tracking devices were used to measure the animals body temperature and movements before and after the fire. We found that in the unburned areas antechinus foraged during the day and night and didn’t use as much torpor,” said Dr Stawski.

But in the burned areas the animals used a lot of torpor and foraged close to their nesting areas and only during the night.

Dr Stawski said it’s important that the fires aren’t so intense that they destroy the trees, which is an important nesting area for the antechnius during torpor.