Biodiversity

Species Profile and Threats Database


For information to assist proponents in referral, environmental assessments and compliance issues, refer to the Policy Statements and Guidelines (where available), the Conservation Advice (where available) or the Listing Advice (where available).
 
In addition, proponents and land managers should refer to the Recovery Plan (where available) or the Conservation Advice (where available) for recovery, mitigation and conservation information.

EPBC Act Listing Status Listed as Vulnerable
Recovery Plan Decision Recovery Plan required, included on the Commenced List (1/11/2009).
 
Adopted/Made Recovery Plans Plains Mouse Pseudomys australis National Recovery Plan (Moseby, K., 2012) [Recovery Plan].
 
Other EPBC Act Plans Threat Abatement Plan for Competition and Land Degradation by Feral Rabbits (Environment Australia (EA), 1999c) [Threat Abatement Plan].
 
Policy Statements and Guidelines Survey guidelines for Australia's threatened mammals. EPBC Act survey guidelines 6.5 (Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (DSEWPaC), 2011j) [Admin Guideline].
 
Federal Register of
    Legislative Instruments
Declaration under s178, s181, and s183 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 - List of threatened species, List of threatened ecological communities and List of threatening processes (Commonwealth of Australia, 2000) [Legislative Instrument].
 
State Government
    Documents and Websites
NT:Threatened Species of the Northern Territory-Plains Rat Pseudomys australis (Pavey, C. & J. Cole, 2012) [Information Sheet].
VIC:Flora and Fauna Guarantee Action Statement 14 - Extinct Mammals 2 (Mansergh, I. & J. Seebeck, 2003) [State Action Plan].
State Listing Status
NSW: Listed as Extinct (Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 (New South Wales): December 2013)
NT: Listed as Endangered (Territory Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act 2000 (Northern Territory): 2012)
QLD: Listed as Endangered (Nature Conservation Act 1992 (Queensland): July 2012)
SA: Listed as Vulnerable (National Parks and Wildlife Act 1972 (South Australia): June 2011)
WA: Listed as Vulnerable (Wildlife Conservation Act 1950 (Western Australia): September 2013)
Non-statutory Listing Status
IUCN: Listed as Vulnerable (IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: 2011.2)
Scientific name Pseudomys australis [108]
Family Muridae:Rodentia:Mammalia:Chordata:Animalia
Species author Gray,1832
Infraspecies author  
Reference  
Distribution map Species Distribution Map

This is an indicative distribution map of the present distribution of the species based on best available knowledge. See map caveat for more information.

Illustrations Google Images

Scientific name: Pseudomys australis

Common name: Plains Rat

Other common names: Palyoora and Yarlie

The Plains Rat currently includes all specimens previously described as Pseudomys minnie, P. rowlinnae and P. auritus. These specimens were collected over a large area of southern Australia (Brandle et al. 1999). Watts and Aslin (1981) synonymised these nomina into a single taxa despite differences in muzzle and skull shape, build and colour (Finlayson 1993 cited in Brandle et al 1999). Although there is doubt about the relationship between these taxa, it has been assumed that the remaining arid-zone Plains Rat represent a single species (Brandle et al. 1999).

The Plains Rat is a small rodent with thick, soft, silver-grey fur above; white to cream underneath; and with relatively large ears. This species grows to 14 cm long and weighs up to 80 g. Its tail is brown to grey and grows to 12 cm long and ends in a white tip (Cronin 1991; Strahan 1998).

The Plains Rat is restricted to the gibber plains of Lake Eyre Basin in northern South Australia (Qld EPA 2008). The previous range of this species extended from the western edge of the Nullabor Range, to central Queensland, to the inland slopes of the Great Dividing Range and to the mouth of the Murray River. However, this species is presumed to be extinct in Queensland and NSW (Dickman et al. 2000). In Western Australia it was known only from the Nullarbor and was last collected near Mundrabilla in 1969 (Morris 2000). In the Northern Territory, it was formerly present only in the extreme south-east region. Recent reports from Alice Springs are likely to be escaped pets (Cole & Woinarski 2000).

The current distribution of the Plains Rat is restricted to the gibber plains of northern South Australia over an area of about 600 km (Brandle et al. 1999; Robinson et al. 2000) and in the western Lake Eyre Basin from Billa Kalina Station, south-east of Coober Pedy, to Charlotte Waters, Northern Territory (Lee 1995). Between 1992 and 1995, during a systematic search of potential locations, it was recorded from 13 sites and has been subsequently located at an additional three sites (Brandle et al. 1999). A fauna survey of the proposed Prominent Hill Operations Wellfield in South Australia (100 km south-east of Coober Pedy) indicated that the species may persist in the area given the presence of suitable cracking clay soils habitat (EBS 2007).

No overall population figures are possible as this species undergoes massive fluctuations in density in response to available resources. Populations after rain can be very abundant and all reported sightings of this species since the 1930s have been in periods that have followed exceptionally good seasons (Brandle et al. 1999). In some areas population densities have declined from 9.84 per ha to localised extinction over a 2.5 year period (Brandle & Moseby 1999). Lee (1995) theorised that during periods of drought, this species contracts to less than 10 000 individuals.

Although studies found the Plains Rat to be more extensive than previously thought, the range of this species has severely declined since European settlement and no record of this species has been recorded east of Lake Eyre since 1975 (Brandle et al. 1999). It is likely that no population of this species is permantly associated with a particular habitat patch. Rather, the Plains Rat utilises a patchwork of primary core areas with only rare widespread dispersal between regions.

Most known populations occur on pastoral lease (Brandle et al. 1999).

The Plains Rat is primarily found in gibber (stone-covered) plains and mid slopes with boulders, small stones and gilgais (water soaks, depressions) (SAALNRM 2008). In years of very good rainfall, this species occur on adjoining sandy plains (SAALNRM 2008). During poor conditions, core refuge areas may occur on low-lying gilgais and watercourses of gibbber plains (SAALNRM 2008). Historically, this species occupied a wider variaty of habitats including sand ridges and dense grasslands (Brandle et al. 1999).

Asociated vegetation is predominantly chenopod as well as ephemeral plants that require good rains to flourish. Associated species includes perennial Atriplex-Maireana open shrubland on gibber (Todmorden Station, Macumba Station and Witjira National Park) and gypseous cracking clay plains dominated by low Sclerolaena sub-shrubs (Billa Kalina Station; Moon Plain north of Coober Pedy) (Lee 1995).

This species is most commonly found in areas that are regularly inundated, often for extended periods. It is probable that individuals would be constantly displaced from these habitats for extended periods, preventing recolonisation, burrowing and breeding (Brandle et al. 1999). During poor rainfall years, Plain Rat populations are maintained in drainage depressions and areas of cracking clays. Such water run-on areas are generally more productive than surrounding habitats and probably hold a greater concentration of shed seeds and dry plant matter than most other habitats (Brandle et al. 1999). The cracks in the soil trap wind-blown material and decrease its likelihood of harvest by other species such as parrots and other birds (Brandle et al. 1999). It has been suggested that these areas are the most productive areas of stony desert landscapes compared to sodic and unstable sections of gibber that restrict plant growth (Hunt & Gilkes 1992 cited in Brandle et al. 1999; Wright et al. 1990 cited in Brandle et al. 1999).

A detailed vegetation analysis showed that the Plains Rat only occurred in four of the nine vegetation classes associated with gibber. The primary habitat was considered to be the drainage channels and depressions with deep friable cracking clays. These habitats were considered to be best able to collect water from even minor falls of rain. Secondary habitats were associated with gilgais and minor drainage areas with low perennial chenopod shrublands and heavier cracking clays (Brandle et al. 1999).

Most core habitat occurs in areas well away from areas of stock concentration such as watering points and floodplains, however, the current pastoral practice of piping water across prevoiusly unwatered country may alter this balance (Brandle et al. 1999).
The Plains Rat occurs in habitat shared by the Stripe-faced Dunnart (Sminthopsis macroura), the Fat-tailed Dunnart (Sminthopsis crassicaudata), the Narrow-nosed Planigale (Planigale tenuirostris), the Paucident Planigale (Planigale gilesi), Kultarr (Antechinomys laniger), Forrests Mouse (Leggadina forresti) and the Desert Mouse (Pseudomys desertor).

The Plains Rat constructs shallow, complex burrows. Nests are maintained by breeding females. In this species' primary habitat, burrows/nests are dug into cracks in the gibber. In secondary habitat areas, complex burrow systems are dug in the softer, more friable soils usually found around the base of chenopod shrubs (Brandle & Moseby 1999).

Breeding is not seasonal but appears to be associated with increased availability of food following significant rainfall events. After these conditions deteriorate, populations can collapse and become undetectable as food resources diminish. Litter size is usually three to four (and up to seven) and weaning takes place 28 days after birth (Qld EPA 2008).

The major component of the Plains Rat diet is seeds with other plant material, while invertebrates and fungi are a minor component (Murray et al. 1999). This species forages and is active during the cool night (Qld EPA 2008). It is able to survive without drinking, as water is obtained from the metabolism of starches in its food (Qld EPA 2008).

Home ranges of radio-collared animals averaged 1850 m² in primary habitat and 6860 m² in secondary habitat (Brandle & Moseby 1999).

The Plains Rat is nocturnal and often seen in headlights running at high speed across tracks and away from vehicles. The adults are relatively large, reaching a weight of up to 85 g (about one and a half times bigger than a House Mouse), and are brownish-grey to grey with a silvery sheen on the back and sides. The undersides are whitish and the head, ears and eyes are relatively large. They can grow to a head and body length of 14 cm. The tail, which is plain and brushless, can be up to 12 cm long. The Plains Rat is considerably larger than any other rodents that may occupy the same habitat. Although they have an impressive repertoire of sounds, including distress calls, chirping and squeals when fearful, they are generally placid and quiet when handled (SAALNRM 2008).

Following wet periods, the Plains Rat can be extremely easy to detect, however, between periods of peak abundance, this species appears to become extremely scarce (Brandle et al. 1999). It is not known why colonies disappear during these scarce periods or where individuals live during the periods between irruptions, although Breed and Head (1990 cited in Brandle et al. 1999) suggest a dependence on river flats during dry times.

Surveys need to take into consideration patch dynamics and thus focus at the level of regional population rather than single sites, especially when recent weather conditions are taken into consideration. Also, the importance of secondary sites should not be understated as their role is not fully understood and they may provide ouposts for the species, particularly when primary habitat is inundated (Brandle et al. 1999).

The Plains Rat has had a significant reduction in total distribution since European colonisation. Habitat degradation, trampling and over grazing by rabbits and cattle is of particular concern. Also, foxes and dingoes are reported to prey on the Plains Rat and may have contributed to its contraction in range. The Letter-winged Kite (Elanus scriptus) is also reported to prey on the Plains Rat (Brandle & Moseby 1999). The role of these threats is exacerbated during periods of extreme weather and periods of restricted resource availability (SAALNRM 2008).

The Queensland Environment Protection Agency and the South Australian Arid Lands Natural Resources Mangement Board suggest the following recovery actions for the protection of the Plains Rat (Qld EPA 2008; SAALNRM 2008):

  • Undertake surveys and population studies to further understand the distribution of theis species, its habitat requirements, reproductive biology, social organisation, population fluctuations and potential threats and limiting factors.
  • Investigate the role of introduced predators and competitors (including livestock).
  • Increase the habitat of this species that is protected and conserved.
  • Appropriately manage domestic stock that may be detrimentally affecting this species.
  • Identify core refuge areas in which the species survives during poor conditions.

Development at Prominent Hill Wellfield will implement mitigation measures to minimise any pressure associated with future development (EBS 2007).

Further locations of the Plains Rat (with a GPS point location, map reference and habitat information) should be forwarded to the South Australia Arid Lands Natural Resource Management group.

Management documentation appropriate for this species includes the Threat Abatement Plan for Competition and Land Degradation by Feral Rabbits (EA 1999c).

The following table lists known and perceived threats to this species. Threats are based on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) threat classification version 1.1.

Threat Class Threatening Species References
Agriculture and Aquaculture:Livestock Farming and Grazing:Habitat loss and modification due to clearance of native vegetation and pasture improvements The Impact of Global Warming on the Distribution of Threatened Vertebrates (ANZECC 1991) (Dexter, E.M., A.D. Chapman & J.R. Busby, 1995) [Report].
Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Invasive Non-Native/Alien Species:Competition and/or habitat degradation Oryctolagus cuniculus (Rabbit, European Rabbit) Pseudomys australis in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006vd) [Internet].
Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Invasive Non-Native/Alien Species:Competition and/or predation Vulpes vulpes (Red Fox, Fox) Pseudomys australis in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006vd) [Internet].
Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Invasive Non-Native/Alien Species:Grazing, tramping, competition and/or habitat degradation Bos taurus (Domestic Cattle) Pseudomys australis in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006vd) [Internet].
Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Problematic Native Species:Competition and/or predation Canis lupus dingo (Dingo, Warrigal, New Guinea Singing Dog) Pseudomys australis in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006vd) [Internet].
Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Problematic Native Species:Competition and/or predation by birds Pseudomys australis in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006vd) [Internet].

Brandle, R. & K.E. Moseby (1999). Comparative ecology of two populations of Pseudomys australis in northern South Australia. Wildlife Research. 26:541-564.

Brandle, R., K.E. Moseby & M. Adams (1999). The distribution, habitat requirements and conservation status of the plains rat, Pseudomys australis (Rodentia: Muridae). Wildlife Research. 26:463-477.

Cole, J.R. & J.C.Z. Woinarski (2000). Rodents of the arid Northern Territory: conservation status and distribution. Wildlife Research. 27:437-449.

Cronin, L. (1991). Key Guide to Australian Mammals. Balgowlah, NSW: Reed Books.

Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (DSEWPaC) (2011j). Survey guidelines for Australia's threatened mammals. EPBC Act survey guidelines 6.5. [Online]. EPBC Act policy statement: Canberra, ACT: DSEWPAC. Available from: http://www.environment.gov.au/epbc/publications/threatened-mammals.html.

Dickman, C.R., L.K-P. Leung & S.M. Van Dyck (2000). Status, ecological attributes and conservation of native rodents in Queensland. Wildlife Research. 27:333-346.

Environment Australia (EA) (1999c). Threat Abatement Plan for Competition and Land Degradation by Feral Rabbits. [Online]. Biodiversity Group, Environment Australia. Available from: http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/publications/tap/rabbits08.html.

Environmental and Biodiversity Services (EBS) (2007). Prominent Hill Operations Wellfield Fauna Survey (Final Version 3), July 2007. Report prepared for Enesar Consulting Pty Ltd on behalf of Oxiana Limited.

Lee, A.K. (1995). The Action Plan for Australian Rodents. Canberra: Australian Nature Conservation Agency, Endangered Species Program.

Morris, K.D. (2000). The status and conservation of native rodents in Western Australia. Wildlife Research. 27:405-419.

Murray, B.R., C.R. Dickman, C.H.S. Watts & S.R. Morton (1999). The dietary ecology of Australian desert rodents. Wildlife Research. 26:421-437.

Queensland Environment Protection Agency (Qld EPA) (2008). Plains rat. [Online]. Available from: http://www.epa.qld.gov.au/nature_conservation/wildlife/native_animals/plains_rat/.

Robinson, A.C., C.M. Kemper, G.C. Medlin & C.H.S. Watts (2000). The Rodents of South Australia. Wildlife Research. 27:379-404.

South Australian Arid Lands Natural Resources Management Board (SAALNRM) (2008). Fact Sheet: Palyoora or Plains Rat: Pseudomys australis. [Online]. Available from: http://www.saalnrm.sa.gov.au/Portals/6/communication/Plains%20Rat%20print.pdf.

Strahan, R. (Ed.) (1998). The Mammals of Australia, Second Edition, rev. Sydney, NSW: Australian Museum and Reed New Holland.

Watts, C.H.S. & H.A. Aslin (1981). The Rodents of Australia. Sydney: Angus and Robertson.

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This database is designed to provide statutory, biological and ecological information on species and ecological communities, migratory species, marine species, and species and species products subject to international trade and commercial use protected under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act). It has been compiled from a range of sources including listing advice, recovery plans, published literature and individual experts. While reasonable efforts have been made to ensure the accuracy of the information, no guarantee is given, nor responsibility taken, by the Commonwealth for its accuracy, currency or completeness. The Commonwealth does not accept any responsibility for any loss or damage that may be occasioned directly or indirectly through the use of, or reliance on, the information contained in this database. The information contained in this database does not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth. This database is not intended to be a complete source of information on the matters it deals with. Individuals and organisations should consider all the available information, including that available from other sources, in deciding whether there is a need to make a referral or apply for a permit or exemption under the EPBC Act.

Citation: Department of the Environment (2014). Pseudomys australis in Species Profile and Threats Database, Department of the Environment, Canberra. Available from: http://www.environment.gov.au/sprat. Accessed Sat, 19 Apr 2014 08:20:05 +1000.