Helping out your mates: bilbies as ecosystem engineers

During 2015, three populations of bilbies across the Canning Basin region of WA were surveyed using camera traps, among other techniques. This has resulted in a large bank of over 130 000 photos from camera traps placed on the entrance of burrows. Bilbies exist in small pocket of 1-4 animals, often with over 30 burrows in the one area, with each individual visiting multiple burrows each night. In addition, bilbies remain in burrows throughout the day, and potentially spending each day in a different burrow. Using camera traps, combined with a large dataset of photos, we can investigate the number of individuals in each population, and the partitioning of burrows and space between individuals.

Bilbies are ecosystem engineers, because their digging, both for food, and to make their burrows, facilitates bioturbation, and provides shelter potentially appropriate habitat for other species. A major part of this project involves identifying the diverse suite of other species that use bilby burrows, as well as identifying relationships between bilby use, and those of other species, as well are trends related to seasons.

The Canning Basin experiences a broad range of climatic conditions, with temperature ranging from 3-56°C (taken from camera photos in 2015), and a large range in rainfall from wet to dry season. Looking at how bilbies and other species use burrows across this wide range of conditions may aid in our understanding of bilby ecology, on the northern fringes of their range.


  • This project will require large amounts of camera photos analysis
  • This project may involve fieldwork, to help with an existing PhD project in the Kimberley

More information: contact Stuart Dawson,

bilbies foraging