Pygmy-possum's rocky mountain home free of unwelcome willows for the winter

Tuesday 20 June, 2023

When you live in a boulderfield, as Mountain Pygmy-possums do, there’s not much room to move. And, if willows decide to come and stay, you could be left out in the cold.

Mountain Pygmy-possums live in the small spaces between the basalt and granite boulders and during the winter months, when the boulderfields are blanketed with snow, the possums hibernate safely in these spaces.

The possums are critically endangered, with only around 2000 individuals left in the wild. Their biggest threats are increased temperatures, frequent and severe fires and predation by foxes and feral cats.

Willows have been a relatively recent addition to this list of threats, arriving in the high country after the 2003 fires in clouds of air-borne seeds that blew up from the valleys and landed in the boulderfields producing thousands of seedlings.

Willows grow between the boulders and have extensive root systems that choke the spaces the possums occupy. Willows are also fast growing and out-compete the slower growing natives like the Mountain Plum Pine that the possums rely on for food.

For the past five years, Parks Victoria has worked towards removing this uninvited and unwelcome house guest from prime Mountain Pygmy-possum real estate in the Alpine National Park.

Experienced weed control contractors visited the boulderfields at Mt Loch, Mt Bundara and Mt Jaithmathang and any willows they found were cut down with their root system poisoned through the careful application of herbicide to the cut stem.

Willows are challenging weeds to remove, so contractors revisit sites year after year to ensure that willows don’t overstay their welcome ensuring that Mountain Pygmy-possums will always have a place in the Australian alps to call home.

The control of willows in alpine boulderfields is part of the Mountain Pygmy-possum Recovery Project. This project is a partnership between the North East Catchment Management Authority (NECMA), Parks Victoria, Mount Hotham Alpine Resort, Falls Creek Alpine Resort, Department of Environment, Energy and Climate Action (DEECA), Traditional Owners and Zoos Victoria and funded from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program.

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