Reptiles as food: predation of Australian reptiles by introduced red foxes compounds and complements predation by cats

Authors: Alyson M Stobo-Wilson, Brett P Murphy, Sarah M Legge, David G Chapple, Heather M Crawford, Stuart J Dawson, Chris R Dickman, Tim S Doherty, Patricia A Fleming, Matthew Gentle, Thomas M Newsome, Russell Palmer, Matthew W Rees, Euan G Ritchie, James Speed, John-Michael Stuart, Eilysh Thompson, Jeff Turpin, and and John C Z Woinarski

Published in: Wildlife Research


Context: Invasive species are a major cause of biodiversity loss across much of the world, and a key threat to Australia’s diverse reptile fauna. There has been no previous comprehensive analysis of the potential impact of the introduced European red fox, Vulpes vulpes, on Australian reptiles.

Aims: We seek to provide an inventory of all Australian reptile species known to be consumed by the fox, and identify characteristics of squamate species associated with such predation. We also compare these tallies and characteristics with reptile species known to be consumed by the domestic cat, Felis catus, to examine whether predation by these two introduced species is compounded (i.e. affecting much the same set of species) or complementary (affecting different groups of species).

Methods: We collated records of Australian reptiles consumed by foxes in Australia, with most records deriving from fox dietary studies (tallying >35 000 samples). We modelled presence or absence of fox predation records against a set of biological and other traits, and population trends, for squamate species.

Key results: In total, 108 reptile species (~11% of Australia’s terrestrial reptile fauna) have been recorded as consumed by foxes, fewer than that reported for cats (263 species). Eighty-six species have been reported to be eaten by both predators. More Australian turtle species have been reported as consumed by foxes than by cats, including many that suffer high levels of predation on egg clutches. Twenty threatened reptile species have been reported as consumed by foxes, and 15 by cats. Squamate species consumed by foxes are more likely to be undergoing population decline than those not known to be consumed by foxes. The likelihood of predation by foxes increased with squamate species’ adult body mass, in contrast to the relationship for predation by cats, which peaked at ~217 g. Foxes, but not cats, were also less likely to consume venomous snakes.

Conclusions: The two introduced, and now widespread, predators have both compounding and complementary impacts on the Australian reptile fauna.

Implications: Enhanced and integrated management of the two introduced predators is likely to provide substantial conservation benefits to much of the Australian reptile fauna.

Stobo-Wilson AM, Murphy BP, Legge SM, Chapple DG, Crawford HM, Dawson SJ, Dickman CR, Doherty TS, Fleming PA, Gentle M, Newsome TM, Palmer R, Rees MW, Ritchie EG, Speed J, Stuart J-M, Thompson E, Turpin J, Woinarski JCZ (2021) Reptiles as food: predation of Australian reptiles by introduced red foxes compounds and complements predation by cats. Wildlife Research PDF DOI