Endemic to the woodlands of southwest Western Australia, Tarsipes rostratus, known locally by its indigenous name, the noolbenger, is not in fact a possum.
The noolbenger has a number of unique adaptations to its habitat and diet which could make it more vulnerable.
The study showed that under a worst-case scenario of a 50 per cent decline in rainfall, noolbenger abundance showed a corresponding drop of more than 50 per cent of current estimates.
The trapping results confirmed the pattern: noolbenger abundance peaked in Banksia woodland unburnt for between 22 and 26 years, and was almost double that found in recently burnt sites.
A new study, conducted by Dr Leonie Valentine and colleagues in the Gnangara Sustainability Strategy group at The Department of Environment and Conservation in Perth, suggests that noolbengers may be adversely affected by declining rainfall and increases in the extent and severity of wildfire predicted as a result of climate change.
But nectar production is closely related to rainfall, and the abundance of noolbengers declines in years following drought.
Dr Valentine and co-workers used this relationship to model the potential impact of declining rainfall on noolbengers. 'Annual rainfall could decline by up to 50 per cent of the current average in southwest Western Australia,' Dr Valentine explains.
Although we can't control rainfall, Dr Valentine says conservation initiatives should 'aim to provide adequate levels of habitat retention and connectivity between patches, which should make noolbengers less susceptible to declining rainfall and drought.'
A further climate change-related threat to noolbengers could be increases in wildfire, as previous researchers have suggested that noolbengers prefer long-unburnt habitat.
'Although noolbengers can occur in recently burnt areas, it is clear they prefer long-unburnt habitat.