AboutZoos, Since 2008


A bal­anced ecosys­tem needs top preda­tors – Aus­tralia needs dingoes

pub­lished 22 March 2014 | mod­i­fied 22 March 2014

Poi­son­ing of din­goes — the top preda­tors in the Aus­tralian bush — has a dele­te­ri­ous effect on small native mam­mals such as mar­su­pial mice, bandi­coots and native rodents, a study led by the Uni­ver­sity of New South Wales Aus­tralia (UNSW) shows.

Dingo2The research, in forested National Parks in New South Wales, found that loss of din­goes after bait­ing is asso­ci­ated with greater activ­ity by foxes, which prey on small mar­su­pi­als and native rodents. As well, the num­ber of kan­ga­roos and wal­la­bies increases when din­goes, also known as wild dogs, dis­ap­pear. Graz­ing by these her­bi­vores reduces the den­sity of the under­storey veg­e­ta­tion in which the small ground-​dwelling mam­mals live. The study is pub­lished on 11 March in the jour­nal Pro­ceed­ings of the Royal Soci­ety B.

Din­goes should not be poi­soned if we want to halt the loss of mam­mal bio­di­ver­sity in Aus­tralia. We need to develop strate­gies to main­tain the bal­ance of nature by keep­ing din­goes in the bush, while min­imis­ing their impacts on livestock
Dr Mike Let­nic, senior author, UNSW, Australia »

The researchers sur­veyed seven pairs of forested sites within con­ser­va­tion reserves man­aged by the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Ser­vice. Bait­ing of din­goes with 1080 poi­son had been car­ried out at one loca­tion in each pair, but not the other. Apart from the result­ing dif­fer­ence in the num­ber of din­goes present, the pairs of loca­tions had sim­i­lar euca­lypt cov­er­age, geol­ogy and land­forms, and were less than 50 kilo­me­tres apart.

“This pro­vided an extra­or­di­nary nat­ural exper­i­ment to com­pare the impact of the loss of din­goes on a forested ecosys­tem,” says Dr Let­nic, an ARC Future Fel­low in the Cen­tre for Ecosys­tem Sci­ence in the UNSW School of Bio­log­i­cal, Earth and Envi­ron­men­tal Sci­ences. This study shows how remov­ing large car­ni­vores can result in simul­ta­ne­ous pop­u­la­tion out­breaks of her­bi­vores and smaller preda­tors. And that these pop­u­la­tion out­breaks, in turn, can have dele­te­ri­ous effects on smaller mammals.

The dingo, Australia’s con­tro­ver­sial icon species:

(Source: Farmer Dave YouTube channel)

The activ­ity of din­goes, foxes, feral cats and bandi­coots was assessed from their tracks. Kan­ga­roos and wal­la­bies and pos­sums were counted from the back of a four wheel drive. Traps were used to catch mar­su­pi­als and native rodents, and sur­veys of veg­e­ta­tion were car­ried out. “We found foxes and large her­bi­vores ben­e­fit from dingo con­trol, while small-​bodied ter­res­trial mam­mal species decline in abun­dance,” says Dr Letnic.

“Pre­da­tion by foxes is one of the most impor­tant threats to small native mam­mals, and graz­ing by her­bi­vores can reduce their pre­ferred habi­tats for shel­ter, leav­ing them exposed to predators.”

The study’s find­ings in the forested areas are con­sis­tent with the effects of dingo removal in desert areas of Aus­tralia. “Actively main­tain­ing dingo pop­u­la­tions, or restor­ing them in areas where they have been exter­mi­nated, is con­tro­ver­sial but could mit­i­gate the impacts of foxes and her­bi­vores,” says Dr Let­nic. “Poi­son­ing of din­goes is counter-​productive for bio­di­ver­sity con­ser­va­tion, because it results in increases in fox activ­ity and declines of small ground-​dwelling native mammals.”

(Source: UNSW news release, 12.03.2014)

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