Context. Range contractions are often the first indicator that a species is in decline. However, natural population fluctuations, characteristic of many Australian rodents, make differentiating between natural lows and unsustainable declines challenging. The endangered smoky mouse (Pseudomys fumeus) is a prime example. Surveys have failed to detect the species across much of its range over the past decade, but P. fumeus is known to experience fluctuations in abundance and periods of low detectability.
Aims. We compared past and current distributions of P. fumeus in the Victoria Range, Grampians–Gariwerd National Park (Victoria, Australia), to assess long-term population persistence over 40 years and short-term population persistence following a high-severity fire.
Methods. To evaluate the efficacy of surveys in detecting P. fumeus, we conducted analyses to explicitly model detectability using historical (1974, 2002) and modern (2013) survey data. We also tested the short-term impacts of fire on the presence of P. fumeus by surveying burned and unburned sites 3 months prior to, and 7 to 21 months following, a severe wildfire.
Key results. Our surveys detected P. fumeus at five new sites, confirmed presence at one historical site, and absence from two historical sites. The species persisted in situ through fire, and for at least 21 months following. We detected resident populations in burned and unburned wet drainage systems.
Conclusions. Despite periods of low density in which the species was undetected, P. fumeus persisted in an 8 km radius area of the eastern escarpment of Victoria Range of the Grampians–Gariwerd National Park for at least four decades through droughts, the presence of invasive predators, and the short-term impacts of wildfire.
Implications. Although P. fumeus persisted through a severe fire, factors influencing survival must be assessed before generalisations are made about the impacts of wildfire on the species. Management of P. fumeus should recognise that the species survives and breeds in wet drainage systems. Regular resurveys incorporating statistical estimates of detectability are necessary to identify and track distributional changes of threatened species, like P. fumeus, particularly in the context of natural, sustainable fluctuations.