Context. Global mammal populations continue to be threatened by environmental change, and recent decadal monitoring in northern Australia suggests a collapse in mammal abundance in key locations. Cape York Peninsula has globally significant natural values but there is very little published about the status and distribution of mammals in this region.
Aims. Following an extensive field survey we investigated two key questions: (i) what is the composition, spatial variation and change from previous regional surveys in the mid to late 1900s in the native terrestrial and arboreal mammal fauna recorded; and (ii) which landscape and site factors best predict mammal richness and abundance.
Methods. We sampled 202 one-hectare sites across seven locations from 2009 to 2012 in woodlands, closed forestand dune scrub and tussock grasslands. We collected landscape and site-based environmental data for each location, representing fire, weather and vegetation factors. We used generalised linear mixed models to examine the relationship between mammals and these factors.
Key results. Mammals were generally scarce across the sites and were more abundant and species rich in wet coastal grasslands or closed forests then tropical savanna woodlands. Fire frequency data and the surrounding vegetation complexity were consistent landscape-scale predictors of mammals; ground cover and woody complexity were significant at the site scale.
Conclusions. Notwithstanding interpretational constraints related to the limited evidence base of historic sampling, the mammal fauna recorded in this study for Cape York Peninsula was similar in composition to the mammal fauna described from 1948–1980 and surveys in 1985, with some species seemingly declining (e.g. Melomys burtoni, Dasyurus hallucatus, Sminthopsis virginiae) and others stable (e.g. Rattus sordidus) or more common (e.g. Rattus tunneyi); however, across all sites abundance was low, and many sites had few or no mammals.
Implications. In the absence of consistent long-term systematic monitoring it is difficult to determine if this survey and historical surveys represent pre-European patterns for mammals. The absence or low abundance of mammals in most sites suggest that cotemporary patterns may not represent an intact mammal fauna. Due to the equivocal nature of these findings a critical next step is to establish robust monitoring and experimental work to reveal the response of mammals to management interventions.