Snacking may be a favorite pastime for many people, but what if your snacking helped save the forest? If you’re a wallaby, that is actually the case.
Dr. Melissa Danks from Edith Cowan University in Western Australia led an investigation into how the swamp wallaby’s truffle consumption spreads spores around the environment, which ended up demonstrating the importance of these animals to forest health.
Danks says there are thousands of truffle species in Australia, and they play a big role in ensuring that trees and woody plants survive.
She explains, “Truffles live in a mutually beneficial relationship with these plants, helping them to uptake water and nutrients and defence against disease.
“Unlike mushrooms where spores are dispersed through wind and water from their caps, truffles are found underground with the spores inside an enclosed ball – they need to be eaten by an animal to move their spores.”
Wallabies eat a variety of foods, including ferns, leaves, mushrooms, and truffles. This diet allows them to be more resilient to environmental changes than other mammals with more specialized diets. Researchers wanted to see if swamp wallabies had taken on a more important role in spreading truffles, with the loss of some other animals.
To figure out how wallabies spread truffle spores, researchers first fed truffles to the animals and determined how long it took for the spores to appear in their poo. Most appeared within 51 hours, but it did take as long as three days.
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Then, the wallabies were fitted with GPS trackers to see how much ground they covered in three days. This ranged from hundreds of meters to more than 1200 meters, making them very effective at spreading truffles throughout the forest.
Danks says these findings are very important regarding forest conservation because as forest systems are further broken up and under pressure, survival is partially dependent upon learning more about the spread of spores.
She explains, “Many of our bushland plants have a partnership with truffles for survival and so it is really critical to understand the role of animals in dispersing these truffle spores.
“Our research on swamp wallabies has demonstrated a simple method to predict how far an animal disperses fungal spores in a variety of landscapes.”
According to the nonprofit Bush Heritage Australia, there are about 30 species of wallabies throughout Australia and Papua New Guinea. The marsupials are sometimes named for their terrain, like the swamp wallaby.
The organization says that though some species are common, under the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species, several wallabies are either endangered or threatened. Those include the Black Forest Wallaby, the Proserpine Rock-wallaby, the Yellow-footed Rock-wallaby, the Rufous Hare Wallaby, and Bridled Nail-tail Wallaby, as well as the five subspecies of Black-footed Rock-wallaby.Whizzco