Long-footed potoroo (Potorous longipes)

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Long-footed potoroo
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Long-footed potoroo fact file

Long-footed potoroo description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderDiprodontia
FamilyPotoroidae
GenusPotorous (1)

The shy and elusive long-footed potoroo is one of the rarest marsupial mammals in Australia (3). Potoroos are essentially small kangaroos, commonly referred to as rat-kangaroos. The long-footed potoroo is around the size of a hare and has a dense coat of soft greyish-brown fur that becomes paler on the belly and feet. As the common name suggests, this species can be distinguished from the long-nosed potoroo by its long hind feet, which bear long toes tipped with strong claws (4). A low kiss kiss vocalisation is produced when individuals are stressed, or between mothers and their offspring (2).

Size
Head-body length: 280 - 415 mm (2)
Tail length: 315 - 325 mm (2)
Male weight: 2.0 - 2.2 kg (2)
Female weight: 1.6 - 1.8 kg (2)
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Long-footed potoroo biology

The long-footed potoroo is a shy, mostly nocturnal species that spends the day sleeping in a simple nest scraped in the ground in a sheltered location (4). Underground, fruiting fungi ordinarily form 90 percent of the diet during most of the year, although fruits and other plant material, as well as some litter and soils-dwelling invertebrates are also eaten (2). All of the underground fruiting fungi that the long-footed potoroo eats share a special symbiotic relationship with the trees of the forest, termed a mycorrhiza. Within this relationship, the fungus lives on the roots of the host plant, supplying nutrients and helping the plant to resist disease. In return, the fungus received energy, in the form of carbohydrates, from the plant. Long-footed potoroos play a vital role in dispersing the spores of the underground fruiting fungi, the spores of which travel intact through the digestive tract of the animal and are returned to the forest in faecal pellets. In doing so, the long-footed potoroo plays an essential role in keeping the forest healthy (4) (6).

Breeding takes place throughout the year. Females produce a single young after a gestation period of around 38 days (2). In captivity, the young stays in the mother’s pouch for 140 to 150 days and reaches sexual maturity at two years of age (2).

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Long-footed potoroo range

This species was discovered less than 30 years ago and so its historical range is poorly understood (5). It is endemic to Australia and has a very restricted range. The main populations are limited to Victoria, where it is found in the Barry Mountains in the north-east of the State and East Gippsland in the far east. A smaller population occurs north of the Victorian border in the south-east forests of New South Wales (2).

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Long-footed potoroo habitat

The long-footed potoroo inhabits a range of forest types, from montane forests at 1,000 meters altitude, to lowland forests at 150 meters (5). It has also been recorded in warm temperate rainforest (2). It requires an abundant supply of fungi that fruit underground (hypogeous fungi or native truffles), which form a key part of the diet and which in turn need soils with high levels of moisture. Dense vegetation cover is also an important feature of the habitat of the long-footed potoroo, as it provides protection and shelter from predators (2) (5).

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Long-footed potoroo status

Classified as Endangered (EN) by the IUCN Red List 2006 (1). Listed as an Endangered Species on Schedule 1 of the New South Wales Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 (2), an Endangered Species under the Commonwealth Environmental Protection and biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 and Endangered by the Victorian Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988.

IUCN Red List species status – Endangered

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Long-footed potoroo threats

Introduced predators including the red fox (Vulpes vulpes), feral cat (Felis cattus) and wild dog (Canis lupus familiaris) represent the most serious threat to the long-footed potoroo; their impact is thought to be greater in disturbed habitats where roads have been built, as they seem to move along roads and tracks and hunt in areas around these features (3). In Victoria, about half of the range of the long-footed potoroo occurs in State Forest which is used for multiple purposes, including intensive logging. In such landscapes, logging prescriptions have been modified to lessen the impact on potoroos, including higher degrees of habitat retention. In New South Wales, nearly all known habitat for the species occurs in National Park (6). Wildfires and periodic fuel-reduction burning have a largely unknown effect on the species and the fungi on which the potoroo depends for food, although in the short term loss of ground cover due to fire may be detrimental to survival (3). The long-footed potoroo occurs in small, highly isolated populations, so genetic problems resulting from inbreeding are a possibility. Moreover, small populations are at great risk of extinction caused by chance events, such as fire, drought, or disease (3).

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Long-footed potoroo conservation

Information on this elusive rare species is sparse, and so further studies into habitat selection, breeding, dispersal, diet and the threats affecting this species are needed in order to effectively conserve it (5). A small breeding captive population was held at Healesville Sanctuary through the 1980s and 1990s, which allowed research on the behaviour and reproduction of the species, otherwise difficult to observe in the wild (3). The ongoing status of the captive colony is unclear, as the last remaining animal died recently (6). In Victoria, on State Forest tenure, the species is protected in a series of Special Management Areas, in which logging is either prevented or monitored and controlled burning reduced (2) (6). Wild dog and red fox control is undertaken, to varying degrees, across much of the range of the long-footed potoroo. Feral cat control is undertaken on a more limited basis (3). Special Management Areas for long-footed potoroos in Victoria will benefit a wide range of other native species, including the marsupial carnivore the spotted-tailed quoll (Dasyurus maculatus), which is also threatened (3).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
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Find out more

For further information on the long-footed potoroo, see:

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Authentication

Authenticated (10/09/07) by Dr Andrew Claridge, Department of Environment and Climate Change, Parks and Wildlife Group, New South Wales, Australia.

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Glossary

Endemic
A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
Marsupial
Diverse group of mammals characterised by their reproduction. The embryo is born 11 to 35 days after conception. The tiny neonate crawls into the marsupium (pouch) and attaches to a teat where it stays for a variable amount of time. They also differ from placental mammals in their dentition.
Montane forests
Forests occurring in the montane zone, a zone of cool upland slopes below the tree line dominated by large evergreen trees.
Mycorrhiza
A fungus that forms a close physical association with the roots of a plant, this relationship is mutually beneficial.
Nocturnal
Active at night.
Spores
Microscopic particles involved in both dispersal and reproduction. They comprise a single or group of unspecialised cells and do not contain an embryo, as do seeds.
Symbiotic relationship
Relationship in which two organisms form a close association, the term is now usually used only for associations that benefit both organisms (a mutualism).
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References

  1. IUCN Red List 2006 (August, 2007)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org
  2. NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service. (1999) Threatened Species Information: Long-footed potoroo. National Parks and Wildlife Service, New South Wales. Available at:
    http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/PDFs/tsprofile_longfooted_potoroo.pdf
  3. Thomas, V.C., Henry, S.R. and Baker-Gabb, D.J. (1994) Flora and Fauna Guarantee Action Statement: Long-footed potoroo. Department of Sustainability and Environment, Victoria. Available at:
    http://www.dpi.vic.gov.au/CA256F310024B628/0/D83A7A380318FA5FCA2570EC001E61BE/$File/058+Long-footed+Potoroo+1994.pdf
  4. Nunan, D., Henry, S. and Tennant, P. (1998) Long-footed Potoroo Recovery Plan. Department of Natural Resources and Environment, Orbost, Victoria. Available at:
    http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/publications/recovery/long-footed-potoroo/index.html
  5. Maxwell, S., Burbidge, A. and Morris, K. (1996) Action Plan for Australian Marsupials and Monotremes. Australian Marsupial and Monotreme Specialist Group- IUCN Species Survival Commission, Gland, Switzerland. Available at:
    http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/publications/action/marsupials/index.html
  6. Claridge, A. (2007) Pers. comm.
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Image credit

Long-footed potoroo  
Long-footed potoroo

© Dave Watts

Dave Watts
http://www.davewattsphoto.com/index.html

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