By Lisa Cox

Bettongs: Truffle-eating marsupial on ‘brink of extinction’

The 30cm-tall marsupials are sometimes referred to as “ecosystem engineers” because of the important role they play in dispersing fungi when they dig in the soil for food.

Northern bettongs are found in only two locations, the first in Lamb Range in the Cairns region, where the population has been studied for about 20 years and numbers between 700 and 1,000.

The second, the Mount Carbine Tableland population in the 
Mount Lewis national park, has been less studied but it was assumed there would also be up 1,000.

But researchers working with the Australian Wildlife Conservancy, the Western Yalanji Aboriginal Corporation and the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service have only surveyed around 50 remaining.

It’s a very small population and definitely on the brink of extinction ... As specialist fungivores which eat and disperse truffles, northern bettongs play an essential role in maintaining the forest’s health. Losing them would not only be a tragedy in itself, it would also have ripple effects across the wider ecosystem.

Manuela Fischer

Wildlife ecologist 

Australian Wildlife Conservancy

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