The native animal whose firefighting poo helps heal WA’s forests

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Fire-ravaged quokka population regenerating in WA
ABC South West WA

By

Jacqueline Lynch

Updated

July 06, 2018 11:21:00

Video: A quenda digs in the forest

(ABC News)
Don't mistake these cute quendas for giant rats

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Marsupials such as quendas and mainland quokkas dig in the dirt and loosen the leaf litter on top of the soil. (ABC South West: Kate Stephens)
“By turning that leaf litter layer over you’re reducing that amount of litter on the ground,” he said.While quendas are still quite common, other animals such as woylies are becoming increasingly rare, which Mr Burston said was sad news for the state’s forests.”If all these animals were out there doing that, we could then really seriously look [again] at some of the burning regimes that are practices now,” he said. Meet the quenda, a digging marsupial that has rejuvenating poo and helps prevent fires.Otherwise known as the southern brown bandicoot, the small, rat-like creature is mostly found in Western Australia from Guilderton, north of Perth, to Esperance in the south-east of the state.The quenda looks cute but that is not all it is good for.A recent study by Edith Cowan and Murdoch universities in WA has found the quenda plays an important role in revitalising the environment.One of the quenda’s food staples is ectomycorrhizal fungi, a truffle which helps native plants — including the Tuart and Jarrah trees found in southern WA — thrive.ECU conservation biologist Anna Hopkins and Murdoch PhD student Natasha Tay grew Tuart seedlings in greenhouse conditions and found they developed a nutrient-enriching fungi on their roots when treated with quenda droppings.Quendas spread the fungi

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Quenda poo could help native trees hold up during fire and drought (Supplied: Janine Kuehs)
Dr Hopkins said that in the wild the quenda played an important role in spreading the fungi spores to the trees.”One of the only ways that [the truffles] can be dispersed through the environment is by something digging them up and then eating them and then transporting the spores in their poo to different places,” she said.She said the poo could make a big difference to the health of native trees.”[The spores] will help the trees to get more water and more nutrients out of the soil and so it will make them grow stronger and healthier,” she said.”They will be able to survive things like attacks by pests and pathogens, or potentially re-sprout after fire much more effectively, and maybe also survive drought better too.”Small marsupials help prevent bushfiresA south-west wildlife expert said it was not just the poo that made quendas and other macropods an asset to the environment.Glen Burston from Maroo Wildlife Rescue near Manjimup said animals such as quendas, woylies and quokkas often churned through the dirt looking for food, which reduced fuel loads on the forest floor.
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