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Dingo and Tas­man­ian devil, top preda­tors against inva­sive exotics

pub­lished 27 March 2012 | mod­i­fied 09 April 2012

Rein­tro­duc­ing top preda­tors such as din­goes and Tas­man­ian dev­ils into land­scapes may help pro­tect Australia’s dimin­ish­ing bio­di­ver­sity, say researchers. Aus­tralia should con­sider actively con­duct­ing a large-​scale project

where pop­u­la­tions of native top preda­tors – the dingo and the Tas­man­ian devil –are allowed to recolonise habi­tats where they once occurred as a way of restor­ing frag­ile ecosystems.

In an opin­ion piece to be pub­lished in Trends in Ecol­ogy and Evo­lu­tion, next month, ecol­ogy expert Dr Euan Ritchie from Deakin Uni­ver­sity Aus­tralia and inter­na­tional col­leagues argue that top preda­tors such as the dingo (Canis lupus dingo) and Tas­man­ian devil (Sar­cophilus har­risii) can help ecosys­tems buffer against or ame­lio­rate sig­nif­i­cant envi­ron­men­tal chal­lenges, includ­ing bio­log­i­cal inva­sion, dis­ease trans­mis­sion and cli­mate change.

We need to be quite bold and allow preda­tors back into the land­scape and see if they can reverse some of the dam­age we’ve done


tasmanian devil

I acknowl­edge this is a pretty rad­i­cal argu­ment and there are some neg­a­tive effects that must be addressed but we believe it is some­thing land man­agers need to con­sider, des­per­ate times need bold mea­sures,” Dr Ritchie said. Aus­tralian ecosys­tems have become frag­ile and degraded and had a low abil­ity to respond to chal­lenges mainly due to the loss of native species, the func­tions they ful­filled, the loss of bio­di­ver­sity, the inva­sion of pests and the con­se­quent changes this wreaked on habi­tat. “In the Aus­tralian trop­ics alone, more than 20 native species of mam­mal might face extinc­tion over the next few decades owing to inap­pro­pri­ate fire regimes, live­stock graz­ing and pre­da­tion by feral cats”.

The recent intro­duc­tion of the red fox into Tas­ma­nia and the decline of the Tas­man­ian devil, a native top preda­tor, is pre­dicted to cause extinc­tion of many species for­merly abun­dant on main­land Aus­tralia and Tas­ma­nia. “We would argue that this grave sit­u­a­tion jus­ti­fies seri­ously con­sid­er­ing man­age­ment pro­grams where top preda­tors are rein­tro­duced or allowed to recolonise habi­tats where they once occurred.” Dr Ritchie said recent evi­dence sug­gested that the rein­tro­duc­tion of din­goes would pro­duce a cas­cade of ben­e­fits by lim­it­ing native and intro­duced her­bi­vores (e.g. kan­ga­roos and goats) and exotic preda­tors, namely foxes and cats. “This would also have a pro­found flow on effect for other smaller species and veg­e­ta­tion,” he said.

Dr Ritchie acknowl­edged some live­stock pro­duc­ers would have con­cerns about the poten­tial impact of the preda­tors on their stock. “But, we believe that live­stock guardian ani­mals present a viable option for pro­tect­ing stock against these top preda­tors, they may also help deter smaller preda­tors like cats and foxes. Dr Ritchie also cau­tioned that top preda­tors could in some cir­cum­stances increase the risk to threat­ened or endan­gered prey species, par­tic­u­larly those liv­ing in habi­tats already degraded by humans,” he said. “In areas where the risk to threat­ened species is too great it would be worth con­sid­er­ing man­age­ment that sim­u­lates the top preda­tors’ effects on the local habitat”.

The above news item is reprinted from mate­ri­als avail­able at Deakin Uni­ver­sity via ABC Sci­ence. Orig­i­nal text may be edited for con­tent and length.

(Source: Deakin Uni­ver­sity News­room, 19.03.2012; ABC Sci­ence, 27.03.2012)

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