Sharing meals: Predation on Australian mammals by the introduced European red fox compounds and complements predation by feral cats

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

Published in: Biological Conservation

Abstract

Two introduced carnivores, the European red fox Vulpes vulpes and domestic cat Felis catus, have had, and continue to have, major impacts on wildlife, particularly mammals, across Australia. Based mainly on the contents of almost 50,000 fox dietary samples, we provide the first comprehensive inventory of Australian mammal species known to be consumed by foxes, and compare this with a similar assessment for cats.

We recorded consumption by foxes of 114 species of Australian land mammal (40% of extant species), fewer than consumed by cats (173 species). Foxes are known to consume 42 threatened mammal species (50% of Australia’s threatened land mammals and 66% of those within the fox’s Australian range). Reflecting the importance of mammals in their diet, foxes are known to consume a far higher proportion of Australian mammal species (40%) than of Australian birds (24%) and reptiles (16%).

Both foxes and cats were most likely to consume medium-sized mammals, with the likelihood of predation by foxes peaking for mammals of ca. 280 g and by cats at ca. 130 g. For non-flying mammals, threatened species had a higher relative likelihood of predation by foxes than non-threatened species. Using trait-based modelling, we estimate that many now-extinct Australian mammal species had very high likelihoods of predation by foxes and cats, although we note that for some of these species, extinction likely pre-dated the arrival of foxes. These two predators continue to have compounding and complementary impacts on Australian mammals. Targeted and integrated management of foxes and cats is required to help maintain and recover the Australian mammal fauna.

Stobo-Wilson AM, Murphy BP, Crawford HM, Dawson SJ, Dickman CR, Doherty TS, Fleming PA, Gentle MN, Legge SM, Newsome TM, Palmer R, Rees MW, Ritchie EG, Speed J, Stuart J-M, Thompson E, Turpin J, Woinarski JCZ (2021) Sharing meals: Predation on Australian mammals by the introduced European red fox compounds and complements predation by feral cats. Biological Conservation PDF DOI