Research on Bernier and Dorre islands provides insight into the continuing evolution of species through the effects of isolation. Separated from the mainland when sea levels rose about 10,000–8,000 years ago, some island species have evolved into distinct subspecies of their extinct mainland relatives, the banded hare-wallaby is an example of this.
Other island species have developed interesting physical and behavioural variations. For example:
- Rufous hare-wallabies on Bernier and Dorre Islands are larger than their captive-bred counterparts in the Tanami region of central Australia.
- Unlike boodies on Barrow and Boodie Islands, boodies on Bernier and Dorre islands are known to live alone rather than in extended warrens housing many animals.
- The Shark Bay mouse does not appear to use burrows as much as most other Pseudomys
Bernier and Dorre islands have been largely spared the disturbances on mainland Australia. They provide a snapshot of ecosystem function prior to European settlement and demonstrate the value of feral-free habitats for native wildlife. Research into the ecology of the islands’ mammals is instrumental in developing recovery plans for these species elsewhere:
- Much has been learned about species population, diet, home ranges, reproduction rates and nest sites.
- Knowledge gained from these studies has resulted in successful captive-breeding programs for the Shark Bay bandicoot, banded hare-wallaby, boodie and Shark Bay mouse.
- Understanding of the animals’ requirements has helped with their successful introduction to new sites, establishing breeding populations to help secure the long-term survival of the species.