TRUFFLE hunting marsupials could be the life blood of Mt Duval forest according to kangaroo specialist Karl Vernes.
The University of New England associate professor is working with honors student Natalie Simpson to track and catch swamp wallabies living on the iconic mountain.
The wallabies are the only animal left in the forest that digs up and consumes native Australian truffles.
These truffles are the fruiting bodies of underground fungi and help the trees and forest to grow healthy,” Dr Venres said.
“Without that fungus under the soil, the forest can’t maintain health and the ecosystems falls apart.
“The spores inside those truffles need to be dispersed and the small animals that normally do that, we have lost all them from Newholme in the past 150 years.”
The pair spent 4 nights last week catching wallabies in 12 purpose built traps.
They then attached a small GPS tracking devices and radio transceiver, which automatically drops off the animals within a couple of weeks.
Dr Venres said the data would hopefully give them a really good idea of how the wallabies were helping the forest stay healthy.
“From a conservation and ecosystem health point of view, we’re interested in how the swamp wallabies disperse that fungi in the landscape, how much they eat and how far they move when they consume the fungi,” he said.
“Swamp wallabies are the Aussie battler of the Australian mammals.
“They seem to be able to maintain good numbers in landscapes with foxes and cats where most other things that disappear.
Dr Vernes is also working with another honours student, Tim Henderson, using the same tracking technology to assist the Coffs Harbour City Council manage an urban kangaroo problem.
Residents in a semi urban housing development are having trouble with kangaroos eating their lawns.
The UNE team traveled to the coast on Wednesday to attach tracking systems to male eastern grey kangaroos to better understand their habits.
The crew will return to Mt Duval in the coming weeks to expand their sample size and to collect the radio transceivers.
The data they collect will tell them where each wallaby has traveled and can be put into a mathematical movement model to tell them how far the animals disperse spores in the landscape.
In all, they hope to track the movements of about 12 wallabies.