Between 2017 and 2020 the EMM Consulting Ecology team has been privileged to undertake extensive and detailed biodiversity surveys in Kosciuszko National Park as a part of the Snowy 2.0 project.

In 2017, during terrestrial trapping surveys, we found the Smoky Mouse (Pseudomys fumeus) in one of our traps. This was an incredibly exciting find for our team. Prior to our surveys, this critically endangered species had been recorded at just four sites in NSW, with the species believed to be extant at just two of the sites. In addition, there were just three records from Kosciuszko National Park.

{Division Leader, Nathan Garvey, holding a Smoky Mouse caught in a survey trap at Kosciuszko National Park}

Further trapping surveys undertaken for the project recorded the species at a very limited number of sites. Little was known about undertaking surveys for this species and our team was concerned that the species may be trap shy. Working closely with key personnel in the Biodiversity Conservation Division (BCD) at the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE) EMM worked to design a reliable survey protocol for the species using remote cameras.

Further surveys, undertaken using baited camera traps, recorded the species within and adjacent to our study area. To understand the regional population of the species EMM undertook additional surveys using remote cameras at 66 sites over approximately 6,000 ha of potential habitat. These regional surveys recorded the species at 31 of these sites, identifying the largest known population of the Smoky Mouse in NSW. This was an extremely exciting find, with significant positive implications for the conservation of this species at a local, regional and national scale.

{Smoky Mouse in Kosciuszko National Park, recorded using remote cameras}

At the end of our major Smoky Mouse survey campaign the 2019/2020 bushfires occurred. These bushfires caused devastation across eastern Australia, including Kosciuszko National Park. As large areas of bushland burnt, the team at EMM watched with bated breath as the fires spread towards the areas of habitat for the Smoky Mouse previously identified. In January 2020 we heard that the fires had extended into these areas, with widespread impacts including almost complete loss of all groundcover and midstorey vegetation, as well as heavy scorching of the overstorey. Due to an active fireground we were unable to access the area to see how the species had faired; however, spatial modelling undertaken by EMM’s Spatial Solutions team using satellite  imagery indicated almost 100% of the identified habitat had been burnt.

{Spatial modelling of the extent and severity from the 2019/2020 bushfires. Black illustrates the highest severity}

In February 2020 members of EMM’s ecology team visited Kosciuszko National Park. What we saw was distressing. The fires had burnt extensive areas at very high intensity levels. The vast majority of suitable habitat for the Smoky Mouse had been burnt. This was overwhelming for our team, who had a great attachment to this area and this species. Like most of Australia, I think our team felt a significant concern for our native wildlife, a real sense of sadness and a feeling of loss. It was a hard time.

{The post-fire environment in Kosciuszko National Park, showing the extent and intensity of the fires}

The fire ecology of the Smoky Mouse is very poorly understood, and ecologists were unsure about whether the species would survive the fire. However, the species lives in underground burrows and data from other species indicates that species can seek refuge from fires underground. If the species did survive the fires, there were concerns that increased predation and a lack of resources would render any survivors at significant risk.

The EMM team placed out several remote cameras in burnt areas where the species had been recorded pre-fire to determine whether any animals survived the fire. Concurrent surveys were undertaken by the team at BCD. Given the extent of the fires, we held little hope.

{Our post-fire survey location, with bait trap in the middle of the photo and our remote camera in the bottom right}

Fortunately, our fears were unfounded. Data collected from these post-fire remote camera surveys indicates that some individuals had survived the fires, with the species recorded at a number of locations within burnt areas. This includes areas burnt at high intensity. Further, the species has now been recorded in areas of Kosciuszko National Park that were not burnt in the fearsome 2019/2020 fires.

{Smoky Mouse recorded post-fire at the location shown above}

The surveys undertaken by EMM provided a significant contribution to our understanding of the Smoky Mouse, including identification of the large population in NSW, an extension to the species’ range in NSW, identification of reliable survey methods and further understanding of the species’ ecology. While recovery of the Smoky Mouse post-fire is not yet secure, with the species still facing increased predation and reduced resources, the survival of the species post-fire provides a greater understanding of the resilience of this small mammal to fire, and provides hope for the recovery of the species longer term.

By Nathan Garvey, Divisional Leader – Ecology/Heritage/Spatial Solutions

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