EDGE Community

Project information

[Project name/title]
The mouse opossum (Dromiciops gliroides Thomas) in fragmented environments: a conservation model for the native forest

[Project description/overview]
This project aims to evaluate the use of Dromiciops gliroides as an indicator species for fragmented forests.

Los Lagos district, Chile.

Project type:
Scientific research

Relevant EDGE species:
Monito Del Monte (Dromiciops gliroides)

Project members:
Francisco Fonturbel

Relevant species
169. Monito Del Monte (Dromiciops gliroides) NT

The monito del monte or "mountain monkey" is regarded by scientists as a living fossil.

[Relevance description]
My goal is to evaluate the response of D. gliroides to the forest well being and its potential use as an indicator species. Also to develop a conservation strategy for the native forest using D. gliroides as a model species, by understanding its responses to forest fragmentation.
Despite being a unique and endemic species of the Chilean temperate rainforest, our current knowledge of habitat use and how human impacts have affected the mouse opossum (Dromiciops gliroides Thomas) is scarce. Temperate rainforests are ecosystems that have an immense conservation value, but currently this ecosystem is considered one of the most threatened on Earth because of the impacts of human activities (e.g. land transformation, forest clearing, firewood extraction, etc.), that result in habitat loss and fragmentation, negatively affecting many native species. Having no basic information on the impacts of human activities on D. gliroides, we are limited in our efforts to develop sound conservation strategies for this species inhabiting fragmented and/or degraded environments.

D. gliroides is the only living extant species of the order Microbiotheria. It is eco-geographically restricted to the mature southern rainforests, dominated by Nothofagus–Chusquea associations. With Irenomys tarsalis, a native rat that feeds on seeds, the mouse opossum is the only arboreal marsupial of the temperate rainforest. Although its population status, demographic dynamics, and abundances are unknown, it is currently classified as Vulnerable (A1c) by the IUCN, and as “Rare” by the Chilean law.

This opossum is morphologically and physiologically specialized to live within the austral temperate rainforest, and their early associations with this vegetation type (making it an ecogeographic restricted species) lead us to believe that forest fragmentation may have a “fence effect”, preventing individuals from dispersing among remaining forest fragments, and increasing their extinction probabilities at the metapopulation level. Also, D. gliroides is considered a keystone species of the temperate forests because of its seed dispersal role in the ecosystem.

Project location
The research will be conducted in the temperate rainforest of Chile, specifically in the Osorno Province (Los Lagos Region), close to the town of Cascadas, in the foothills of the Andean mountains. The landscape includes remaining old– and second–growth forest fragments, varying in size and ranging from 1 to >30 ha. This forest has many endemic species, is highly impacted by human activities, and is considered of high priority for conservation.
Project summary
Dromiciops gliroides is an endemic arboreal marsupial of the temperate Chilean forest, the only living representative of the Microbiotheria order. Although its population status remains unknown, it is currently classified as “Vulnerable” A1c by the IUCN. I propose to study the three–dimensional habitat use and movement patterns of D. gliroides in continuous and fragmented forest habitats to examine how its space use patterns are affected by habitat fragmentation. Results will be used to build a habitat use model, and to develop a model–species- based conservation strategy for the sustainable use of the forest.

The research is driven by three working hypotheses:
1) D. gliroides shows a negative response to forest fragmentation;
2) D. gliroides uses a range of tree structures and the habitat in a three–dimensional way; and
3) D. gliroides shows a negative response to degraded forests and avoids the surrounding matrix of non–forested areas.
1. To estimate abundances in continuous and fragmented forest habitats.
2. To track individuals using telemetry in both continuous and fragmented forests.
3. To develop a habitat use and preference model.
4. To elaborate a conservation strategy for the native forest, using D. gliroides as a model species.
I have abundance data for continuous and fragmented habitats, habitat structure measures and telemetry location sets for five individuals.
Start date: January 2008
Duration: Ongoing
Project members
Francisco Fonturbel : Principal Investigator

Francisco is currently developing a project on the threatened monito del monte

[Member role description]
Idea Wild (1000 US$), Scott Neotropical Fund / Cleveland Metroparks Zoo (4435 US$).
[Title:] Monito del Monte
[Image caption]
Dromiciops gliroides
[Title:] Organisation logo
[Image caption]
Universidad de Los Lagos
[Title:] Monito del Monte
[Image caption]
Dromiciops gliroides
[Title:] Monito del Monte
[Image caption]
Dromiciops gliroides
[Title:] Location
[Image caption]
Los Lagos district, Chile