Myf Webb (nee Runcie) inspects distinctive and
unique scent mark deposits left by rock-haunting possums
Photo: Pavel German
I finalised my PhD thesis while
employed by CSIRO as a research scientist in Canberra. The area of
research was immunocontraception of mice using a viral vector. This
involved laboratory work in Canberra and Perth and large-scale
field experiments in the mallee country of Victoria.
For a week during this
time—but as a rock possum specialist—I located and
captured free-ranging rock possums ( Petropseudes dahli )
for Australian National University and the Northern Territory
Wildlife Park. These possums are now exhibits at the Park.
I left CSIRO and became a full time
horse trainer and then took up my first permanent job in a research
position with the Public Health System. I now divide my time
between creative pursuits, a private business and government
Myf Webb (nee Runcie) holds a rock-haunting
Photo: Pavel German
Northern Territory University, Darwin: Completed
possum | Scaly-tailed possum | After the PhD | Possum Peer Reviewed
Publications | Popular magazine
articles | Conference
Presentations | More information |
The rock-haunting possum ( Petropseudes dahli ) has been
the subject of most of my research. Their distribution ranges from
the Kimberley region of Western Australia across the Top End to the
Gulf of Carpentaria and Western Queensland.
Radio-tracking and behavioural observations of a population in
Kakadu National Park revealed this species to be highly social.
These possums live in family groups of two adults and one or two
young. During the day, they use rock crevices as den sites which
are cool and safe from predators. Soon after dark, possums move
together down from the rocks to the trees which grow close by.
Unique characteristics of the rock-haunting possum include
biparental care with the male providing 50 per cent of total
parental care. This degree of male care is rare among mammals and
unreported in marsupials. They have an extensive communication
system including substantial scent-marking of trees and rocks
within their homerange. Anti-predatory behaviour includes a range
of behaviours and is highlighted by a coordinated sentinel system
among groups of possums. Sentinel behaviour is usually associated
with birds but has been recorded in some orders of mammals such as
My studies also included the only other tropical rock-dwelling
possum, the scaly-tailed possum ( Wyulda squamicaudata ).
This elusive and mysterious possum is endemic to the rugged
Kimberley region of Western Australia. I found a population of
Scaly-tailed possums, and collected information on movements, den
sites, diet and foraging behaviour. Results showed they require
relatively large homeranges, fractured rock, and certain plant
Suggestions for management of these two possum species' habitat
involves reducing habitat modification, (particularly ensuring the
regeneration of food trees up to 50 m from rocks) and reducing
feral predators. Fire management and the protection of rainforest
patches for survival of frugivore dispersers should also help to
maintain the vegetation diversity in rock possum habitats.
Runcie, M.J. 2002, 'Scent-marking and vocal communication in
the rock-haunting possum, Petropseudes dahli ', Book chapter
accepted In Possums and Gliders 2 nd
Runcie, M.J. 2000, 'Biparental care and obligate monogamy in
the rock-haunting possum, ( Petropseudes dahli ) of tropical
Australia', Animal Behaviour , 59:5, 1001-1008.
Runcie, M.J. 1999, 'Movements, nest sites and feeding
behaviour of the tropical scaly-tailed possum ( Wyulda
squamicaudata )', Wildlife Research , 26, 367-373.
Hume, I.D., Runcie, M.J. and Canton, M.J, 1997. 'Digestive
physiology of the ground cuscus ( Phalanger gymnotis ), a
New Guinea phalangerid marsupial', Australian Journal of
Zoology, 45:561 - 571.