Factors influencing annual variation in breeding by common brushtail possums (Trichosurus vulpecula) in New Zealand

We assembled data on annual variation in breeding rates of brushtail possums from four long-term studies in the lower North Island of New Zealand, three of which spanned more than 20 years. In each study, more than 80% of adult females bred in most years. The major exception was in 1996, when breeding failed synchronously at sites separated by up to 122 km. The overall breeding rate in 1996 at these sites was 28% (n = 201). Other instances of low breeding rate (<70%) occurred asynchronously at particular sites. We analysed variation in breeding rates to determine the contributions to annual variation of individual condition (body weight), population density, food resources and other environmental predictors. The probability of breeding declined rapidly as body condition fell below average. An index of fruitfall of hinau (Elaeocarpus dentatus), a highly nutritious food used by possums, and population density in the previous year were the most important predictors of possum condition and breeding rate. High density in the previous year coupled with low hinau fruitfall in the current year predicted below-average body condition and reduced breeding rate. Although the magnitude of these effects were only significant in ‘extreme’ years, they are consistant with delayed density-dependent effects on fecundity in brushtail possums.

Author Ramsey, D., Efford, M., Cowan, P. and Coleman, J.
Year 2002
Secondary title Wildlife Research
Volume 29
Number 1
Pages 39-50
Region NZ
Links https://www.publish.csiro.au/paper/WR00074.htm