Most of us are used to seeing kangaroos and wallabies (macropods) foraging on the pastures, grasslands and saltmarsh areas along the East Coast of Australia. Pademelons are small macropods that inhabit our subtropical rainforests and wet sclerophyll forests. There are three species of Pademelon in Australia, including the Red-bellied Pademelon (Thylogale billardierii), which is only found in Tasmania, the Red-legged Pademelon (Thylogale stigmatica) and the Red-necked Pademelon (Thylogale thetis), which reside amongst the forests along the east coast of Australia. The two east coast species overlap in distribution, particularly around the Queensland/New South Wales border, generating interest from researchers particularly around their origins, methods of co-existence and behaviour when they encounter each other.
Left: Red-legged Pademelon on the forest floor. Right: Red-necked Pademelon moves out of the rainforest edge to take advantage of the pasture.
The Red-necked Pademelon tends to stay near the edges of rainforest and are often seen moving out of the forest to feed on adjoining areas of grass or pasture, especially in the evening and through the night. They generally feed on small herbs and grasses and will sometimes browse on small shrubs. They tend to rest well within the forest in the middle part of the day and often on their own. When they move out onto the pastures at night they often feed in groups. This may be a strategy to keep an eye on predators including dingoes and foxes. If a member of the group becomes alarmed, it will thump its foot and the entire group will race back into the cover of the forest. You can often see them in the surrounds at O'Reilly's Guesthouse at Lamington National Park. Very similar in size, this Pademelon can be recognised by its distinct red fur across its upper back and chest area. In both species, the male tends to be slightly larger than the female.
At the Mary Cairncross Reserve, I came across a small group of well-studied Red-legged Pademelons, foraging on the sub-tropical rainforest floor. Their broad diet is varied and depends on the time of year and what's available. They are known to forage on fungi, fruit and berries, freshly fallen leaves from the canopy, grasses, tree bark and some insects. They are generally active most of the day, especially in the morning and will often rest during the afternoon. Research has shown that when Red-necked Pademelons are present they adjust their foraging times, focusing on early mornings and leaving the Red-necked Pademelons to feed during the evening and late night. In proximity, they also inhabit different areas of the forest, so they both avoid competing for the same resources. This helps to facilitate a higher level of biodiversity across the rainforest. Generally, a solitary animal, they do form small groups, especially if they are feeding on fallen fruit. In the video above you can see individuals feeding on freshly fallen leaves from the canopy above as well as tackling the new growth of saplings and shrubs on the forest floor.
A Red-legged Pademelon feeding on new growth in the understorey of a sub-tropical rainforest.
An area of interest for researchers and landholders attempting to rehabilitate rainforest areas is the impact of herbivory and leaf litter disturbance from animals including macropods (Pademelons and some wallabies) and megapodes such as the Brush Turkey who scratch the litter and create large nesting mounds. There is still much to learn about their impact on the structure of the rainforest as their behaviour within their foraging sites impacts on the recruitment of rainforest plants and the depth and distribution of leaf litter, which plays a vital role in creating a moist insulating layer for the rainforest as well as contributing to the nutrient recycling process. Being prone to impacts along the edge is one of the reasons why it is important to maintain large areas of rainforest including areas like the one located at the Mary Cairncross Reserve (55 hectares).
Kanowski, J., Catterall, C. P., Dennis, A. J. and Westcott, D. A. (Eds). (2004) Animal-Plant Interactions in Rainforest Conservation and Restoration. Cooperative Research Centre for Tropical Rainforest
Ecology and Management. Rainforest CRC, Cairns. (56 pp.)
Smith, L.E.V., Andrew, N.R. and Vernes, K. (2022), Activity patterns and temporal niche partitioning in sympatric red-legged and red-necked pademelons. Austral Ecology, 47: 557-566. https://doi.org/10.1111/aec.13135
Sunshine Coast Council Red-legged Pademelon Downloaded 14th August 2022: https://mary-cairncross.sunshinecoast.qld.gov.au/Learn/Mammals/Red-legged-pademelon
Australian Museum Red-necked Pademelon Red-necked Pademelon - The Australian Museum
Australian Museum Red-legged Pademelon Red-legged Pademelon - The Australian Museum