Range and abundance
The Golden-backed Tree-rat was once found across most of northern Australia and in two isolated populations along the Pilbara coast. The species has disappeared, and is presumed extinct, from most of its former range and now only occurs in the most northwest near-coastal section of the Kimberley region in Western Australia.
The Golden-back Tree-rat is a large rodent measuring 18 – 34 cm in body length with a 29 – 36 cm long tail, and weighing 450 – 670 grams. The tree-rat is predominantly grey on its upper body with white fur below. Its name refers to the broad stripe of orange – brown fur that runs from the top of the head to the base of the tail. It has large white feet and a long tail that finishes in a slight brush of bright white fur.
Golden-backed Tree-rats occur in a variety habitats including rainforest patches, eucalypt-dominated woodlands, blacksoil plains and rugged sandstone escarpments. The tree-rat is nocturnal and arboreal. By day it sleeps in nests made in the hollows of trees, among rocks or within dense foliage. It emerges at night to forage on a varied diet of flowers, fruits, insects and grasses. Golden-backed Tree-rats are thought to breed throughout the year and young are weaned at six or seven weeks.
Predation by feral cats and altered fire patterns - especially an increase in extensive hot wildfires in the late dry season - may be the most significant threats to Golden-backed Tree-rats. Intense wildfires may remove the tree hollows and the dense foliage within which tree-rats nest, and also decrease the availability of food. The Golden-backed Tree-rat is of a size that makes it highly vulnerable to predation by feral cats. A possible decrease in food availability caused by grazing of introduced herbivores may have also contributed to the species decline across northern Australia.
What is AWC doing?
AWC’s Artesian Range Wildlife Sanctuary protects a vitally important population of the Golden-backed Tree-rat. Cat impacts in the Artesian Range appear to be low and our fire management has successfully prevented extensive wildfires. As a result, the Golden-backed Tree-rat is reasonably common across almost 40,000 hectares of rainforest-filled gorges, sandstone escarpment and a mosaic of eucalypt/palm woodlands.
AWC is conducting the only detailed scientific research ever undertaken on this iconic small mammal. Our field ecologists are undertaking important research to identify the habitat requirements of Golden-backed Tree-rats and investigate actions that may help reverse the species’ decline. Research conducted by AWC, in collaboration with the University of Tasmania, is investigating the influence of fire on the foraging patterns and habitat requirements of the Golden-backed Tree-rat at Artesian Range. AWC is furthermore encouraging a stable Dingo population on Artesian Range as this has potential to help reduce feral cat activity.