|Gilbert's potoroo from Two People's Bay captive colony February 2009|
|Gilbert's potoroo range|
Gilbert's potoroo or ngilkat (Potorous gilbertii) is Australia's most endangered marsupial and one of the world's rarest critically endangered mammals. It is a small nocturnal macropod which lives in small groups. It has long hind feet and front feet with curved claws which it uses to dig for food. Its body has large amounts of fur which helps with insulation, and its fur ranges between brown and grey; the colour fading on its belly. This potoroo has a long, thin snout curving downward that it uses to smell its surroundings; this trait is common in all potoroo species. Its eyes appear to bulge out of its face and look as though they are on an angle and its ears are almost invisible, buried under thick fur. Male and female body types are very similar and are both within the same size range. Adult females range in weight from 708–1205 g (including pouch young where present), whereas adult males range in weight from 845–1200 g.
The current estimated population is a sparse seventy individuals. It was thought to be extinct until its rediscovery in 1994. The only naturally located population is found in Two Peoples Bay Nature Reserve in Western Australia, where they co-exist with quokkas (Setonix brachyurus). Small populations are also being established at Bald Island and Michaelmas Island.
A description of the species was published by John Gould in his Monograph of Macropodidae (1841), which included an illustration of the species by H. C. Richter. The name was published in the Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, reporting Gould's presentation of the specimen at its meeting on 9 February 1841. Gould placed the new species with the genus Hypsiprymnus, and the taxon was later assigned to the genus Potorous. A specimen of the animal was collected by the field worker John Gilbert at King George Sound, while collecting birds and mammals for Gould at the new colonies in the southwest of Australia. The holotype is a female skin and skull placed at the British Museum of Natural History, a specimen that was also named as Hypsiprymnus micropus G. R. Waterhouse 1841. Gould's description was later submerged as a subspecies or recognised as a synonym of other potoroine taxa, and was referred to as Potorous tridactylus in taxonomic and conservation listings. Until the rediscovery of the species, the material available limited any comparison with its related taxa. An analysis of the new material and revision of the genus Potorous confirmed what Gilbert has supposed when he collected the first specimen, and the taxon was again recognised as a species.
The specific epithet was nominated by Gould to recognise John Gilbert and suggested the trivial name of Gilbert's rat kangaroo. Gould also provides the name used at King George Sound, given as grul-gyte. A review of historical records for the names in the Nyungar language proposed the adoption of ngilkat [ngil'kat] as the regular spelling of its preferred common name.
A small species of Potorous with a fur colour that is rufous brown across the upper side and light grey beneath. The length of the head and body combined is 270 to 290 millimetres, the average is 250 mm, and the is proportinoally less than the length of the tail, which is from 215 to 230 mm and an average 223 millimetres. The measurement of the hind foot is 65 to 70 mm and proportionally less than the length of the head. Their short ears are covered in greyish fur and rounded in their profile, the fur is also grey over the muzzle. The recorded weight range of the species is 785 to 965 grams. The tail of Potorous gilbertii tapers away from the body and is covered with only a small amount of hair.
Distribution and habitat
Gilbert's potoroo was once found in a large distribution range across south-west Australia, but seems to have been locally restricted. Sites at Cape Naturaliste and Cape Leeuwin have produced sub-fossil remains that show the range extended to the west of the King George Sound region at some point in recent history. The physical and anecdotal including the areas around King George Sound and near the Margaret River, but the native range became reduced to the Mount Gardner headland at Two Peoples Bay. Within that area of less than 1,000 hectares, the species occupies four separate areas of dense shrubland within valleys at the mount's slopes; Mount Gardner provides a habitat that has been isolated from changed fire regimes. These areas are described as a Melaleuca striata and Melaleuca uncinata shrubland, between 1.5 and 2.0 m tall with 70-100% canopy cover, and a dense layer of sedges including Lepidosperma sp. and Anarthria scabra as the understorey. The vegetation forming its habitat has not been burnt for over 50 years, so long, unburnt areas are thought to be necessary for the species.
Foraging activity is nocturnal, remaining hidden in dense undergrowth during day, and rarely crosses large open areas.
Study of the species diet is limited to the relict population discovered at Two Peoples Bay, and is found to be similar to that of Potorous tridactylus. Gilbert's potoroo is primarily mycophagous, a diet that consists of multiple species of truffle-like fungi. It may also consume fleshy fruits as seeds have been found in the scat, but it is not known how important this is to its diet. Australia has the majority of fungal varieties and the Gilbert's potoroo eats a variety of them. From translocation of the potoroo, the species was found to survive on many different kinds of fungi, not limited to the species available in its habitat at Two People's Bay.
As with many of the potoroine species, the primary type of fungus consumed is hypogeous, with the above ground fruiting bodies of epigeous fungi forming only a minor part of their diet. Plant matter consumed includes leaves and stems, and invertebrates have also been recorded in the excreta; this has been regarded as incidental ingestion while eating subterranean fungi. Ninety percent of the volume of material consumed is hypogeous fungus. The spores of five fungal species have been recorded in faecal matter throughout the year, the total number is around forty species.
A female Gilbert's potoroo can have two babies in a year, while carrying only one at a time. It has the ability to keep a second embryo in a state of diapause while the first embryo is growing. If the first baby does not go to term, the second baby starts growing right away. The gestation period for this species is unknown, but is estimated to be similar to the long-nosed Potorous tridactylus at 38 days. Since so few are alive today, much of the reproductive cycle for Gilbert's potoroo remains unknown. However, the main breeding period is thought to be November–December with similar breeding patterns to those of the long-nosed potoroo. Scientists have tried to breed them in captivity, but recent attempts have been unsuccessful, citing diet, incompatibility, and age as possible factors that influenced the lack of reproduction. Reproduction in the wild is thought to be progressing successfully as many females found in the wild are with young.
After the collection of the first specimen in 1840, when Gilbert had reported to Gould that the species was locally common, the success of field workers in finding the animal was little and then none until the rediscovery in the late twentieth century. Gould's description gives a report by Gilbert that the local Nyungar people caught them in "immense numbers" on a single hunt. A letter of James Drummond notes a series of specimens assembled by his son, around a dozen from an unspecified location. Gerard Krefft also noted that George Masters, a highly active collector of the Albany district, obtained around five to eight specimens in 1866 and a pair in 1869. Later workers known to have made extensive collections in the area, including Shortridge and John Tunney, failed to record this species in the southern districts by the end of the nineteenth century.
The few historical records of the species are all at the southern coast of Southwest Australia, summarised as those around King George Sound during 1843, 1866, 1869 and 1875, and the uncertain date of 1890s to the west.
The species was presumed extinct for 20 years before it was rediscovered in 1994 in Two Peoples Bay Nature Reserve. Liz Sinclair had been doing research on wallabies and caught the potoroo in one of her traps. She then compared her captured specimen with the skeletons of past potoroos and proved it was indeed a Gilbert's potoroo. No other wild population has been found after the rediscovery at Two Peoples Bay. The size of the population places the species on the edge of extinction, and the trajectory of the species is considered precarious.
After the rediscovery of Gilbert's potoroo, additional specimens were immediately taken into captivity to try to help to promote more young to be born to help increase the population. A few young were born in the first few years, but then breeding stopped due to age differences and a history of balanoposthitis, a disease that affects the male potoroo's penis and causes inflammation and ulceration if left untreated. This problem exists among the wild population; captive males are treated with antibiotics.
In 2001, the Gilbert's Potoroo Action Group was formed to help in the education and public awareness of the potoroo. The group also helps with raising funds for the research and captive-breeding programs for Gilbert's potoroo.
In efforts to protect the remaining population, three Gilbert's potoroos (one male and two females) were moved to Bald Island in August 2005, where they are free from predation. Since that time, an additional four potoroos have been sent to establish a breeding colony.
Along with the dwindling number of the species after their rediscovery in Australia, one of the potoroos was found to have some sort of sickness when brought into captivity in early 2000. The scientists who had brought the young male potoroo and its mother into captivity found that the animal had significant loss of appetite, and lost 32% of its body mass within a few weeks. They had observed it moving in circles in captivity and behaving in an odd manner. They had also noticed symptoms of sporadic coughing fits and before its death had seen that the potoroo had actually gone into a state of hypothermia. In a later study of a long-nosed potoroo, the same symptoms were found and were likened to a fatal disease, cryptococcosis, which had been contracted while the animals were in the wild. This could also be a factor why the potoroo population is dwindling in the wild, because the disease could be killing the young before they are able to reproduce.
A thesis published in 2008 considered the diseases that may affect individual P. gilbertii and the remaining population. Some conditions detected in the hosts were associated with novel species of internal and external organism.
In 2016, Michaelmas Island, off the coast of Two Peoples Bay, was chosen as a new habitat location. The island's lack of predators was a key factor in its selection, which will provide the Gilbert's potoroo with a similar level of long-term protection enjoyed by the quokkas of Rottnest Island, also in Western Australia.
Gilbert's potoroo was one of first species noticed as disappearing after British colonisation, and remarkable in its rediscovery at the end of the twentieth century. The relict population at Two Peoples Bay, around forty individuals, had survived the factors that caused the mass decline of Australian mammals in a critical weight range of species smaller and larger than themselves. The earliest records of the species are found in the letters and field notes of John Gilbert, repeated by Gould and later authors as the only source of information on the living species.
John Gould published the existing name in the Nyungar language as "Grul-gyte" (1841) and later "Ngil-gyte" (1863), the second name matching Gilbert's own field notes as the name reported to him at King George Sound. A similar name was given in various other ways in the early wordlists of Isaac Scott Nind (nailoit) and George Fletcher Moore (garlgyte) as and others, and rendered as 'ngilkat' in an ethnohistoric review published in 2001.
The author proposed the species name Hypsiprymnus gilbertii with an explanation in A monograph of the Macropodidae, or family of kangaroos,
In dedicating it to Mr. Gilbert, who proceeded with me to Australia to assist in the objects of my expedition, and who is still prosecuting his researches on the northern portion of that continent, I embrace with pleasure the opportunity thus afforded me of expressing my sense of the great zeal and assiduity he has displayed in the objects of his mission; and as science is indebted to Mr. Gilbert for the knowledge of this and several other interesting discoveries, I trust that, however objectionable it may be to name species after individuals, in this instance it will not be deemed inappropriate. Gould, 1841.
- Gould, John (1841). A monograph of the Macropodidæ, or family of kangaroos. London: The Author.
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- Stead-Richardson, E.; Bradshaw, D.; Friend, T.; Fletcher, T. (1 January 2010). "Monitoring reproduction in the critically endangered marsupial, Gilbert's potoroo (Potorous gilbertii): preliminary analysis of faecal oestradiol-17beta, cortisol and progestagens". General and Comparative Endocrinology. 165 (1): 155–62. doi:10.1016/j.ygcen.2009.06.009. PMID 19539621.
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- Vaughan-Higgins, R.; Buller, N.; Friend, J. A.; Robertson, I.; Monaghan, C.L.; Fenwick, S.; Warren, K. (October 2011). "Balanoposthitis, Dyspareunia, and Treponema in the Critically Endangered Gilbert's Potoroo (Potorous gilbertii)". Journal of Wildlife Diseases. 47 (4): 1019–1025. doi:10.7589/0090-3558-47.4.1019. ISSN 0090-3558. PMID 22102677.
- "New island home boosts hopes for Gilbert's potoroo". 12 July 2016. Archived from the original on 23 November 2016. Retrieved 2016-07-12.
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|Wikispecies has information related to Potorous gilbertii|
- Gilbert's Potoroo at Western Australia Department of Environment and Conservation
- Gilbert's Potoroo (Potorous gilbertii) Recovery Plan