Understanding conflict among experts working on controversial species: A case study on the Australian dingo

Authors: Valerio Donfrancesco, Benjamin L Allen, Rob Appleby, Linda Behrendorff, Gabriel Conroy, Mathew S Crowther, Christopher R Dickman, Tim Doherty, Bronwyn A Fancourt, Christopher E Gordon, Stephen M Jackson, Chris N Johnson, Malcolm S Kennedy, Loukas Koungoulos, Mike Letnic, Luke K‐P Leung, Kieren J Mitchell, Bradley Nesbitt, Thomas Newsome, Carlo Pacioni, Justine Phillip, Brad V Purcell, Euan G Ritchie, Bradley P Smith, Danielle Stephens, Jack Tatler, Lily M van Eeden, Kylie M Cairns

Published in: Conservation Science and Practice


Expert elicitation can be valuable for informing decision-makers on conservation and wildlife management issues. To date, studies eliciting expert opinions have primarily focused on identifying and building consensus on key issues. Nonetheless, there are drawbacks of a strict focus on consensus, and it is important to understand and emphasize dissent, too.

This study adopts a dissensus-based Delphi to understand conflict among dingo experts. Twenty-eight experts participated in three rounds of investigation.

We highlight disagreement on most of the issues explored. In particular, we find that disagreement is underpinned by what we call “conflict over values” and “conflict over evidence.” We also note the broader role played by distrust in influencing such conflicts.

Understanding and recognizing the different elements shaping disagreement is critical for informing and improving decision-making and can also enable critique of dominant paradigms in current practices. We encourage greater reflexivity and open deliberation on these aspects and hope our study will inform similar investigations in other contexts.

Donfrancesco V, Allen BL, Appleby R, Behrendorff L, Conroy G, Crowther MS, Dickman CR, Doherty T, Fancourt BA, Gordon CE, Jackson SM, Johnson CN, Kennedy MS, Koungoulos L, Letnic M, Leung LK ‐P., Mitchell KJ, Nesbitt B, Newsome T, Pacioni C, Phillip J, Purcell BV, Ritchie EG, Smith BP, Stephens D, Tatler J, van Eeden LM, Cairns KM (2023) Understanding conflict among experts working on controversial species: A case study on the Australian dingo. Conservation Science and Practice PDF DOI 


Threat-abatement framework confirms habitat retention and invasive species management are critical to conserve Australia’s threatened species

Authors: Stephen G Kearney, James EM Watson, April E Reside, Diana O Fisher, Martine Maron, Tim S Doherty, Sarah M Legge, John CZ Woinarski, Stephen T Garnett, Brendan A Wintle, Euan G Ritchie, Don A Driscoll, David Lindenmayer, Vanessa M Adams, Michelle S Ward, and Josie Carwardine

Published in: Biological Conservation


Earth’s extinction crisis is escalating, and threat classification schemes are increasingly important for assessing the prominent drivers and threats causing species declines. However, a complementary framework for assessing the conservation responses needed to abate these threatening processes is lacking.

Here we draw on expert knowledge and published literature to develop a threat-abatement framework which groups threats based on the shared conservation goal of the actions needed to abate their impact and apply it to 1532 threatened species across the Australian continent.

Our analysis shows that the most important conservation actions across Australia are to retain and restore habitat, due to the threats posed by habitat destruction and degradation (via logging, mining, urbanisation, roads, and agriculture) to 86% of Australia’s threatened species. Most species also require the effective control of invasive species and diseases (82%) and improved fire management (66%).

Countering individual threats will not be enough to support species survival or recovery, because almost all species (89%) require multiple, integrated management responses to redress their threats. Our threat abatement framework enables rapid identification of broad conservation responses to aid recovery of threatened species and can be applied in other regions, scales and contexts.

Kearney SG, Watson JEM, Reside AE, Fisher DO, Maron M, Doherty TS, Legge SM, Woinarski JCZ, Garnett ST, Wintle BA, Ritchie EG, Driscoll DA, Lindenmayer D, Adams VM, Ward MS, Carwardine J (2023) Threat-abatement framework confirms habitat retention and invasive species management are critical to conserve Australia’s threatened species. Biological Conservation PDF DOI


Fox and cat responses to fox baiting intensity, rainfall and prey abundance in the Upper Warren, Western Australia

Authors: William L Geary, Adrian F Wayne, Ayesha IT Tulloch, Euan G Ritchie, Marika A Maxwell, and Tim S Doherty

Published in: Wildlife Research


Context: Invasive predators are major drivers of global biodiversity loss. Red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) and feral cats (Felis catus) have contributed to the decline and extinction of many native species in Australia. The deployment of poison baits to control fox populations is a widespread conservation tool, but the effects of baiting intensity, rainfall and prey abundance on baiting effectiveness remain poorly understood.

Aims: We aimed to understand what influences the association between fox baiting intensity, red fox activity and feral cat activity, to provide inferences about what might affect the effectiveness of fox baiting in reducing fox activity.

Methods: We used generalised linear models to assess how fox and cat activity changes in relation to fox baiting intensity, rainfall, native prey availability and distance to agricultural land over a 6-year period (2006–2013) in the forest ecosystems of the Upper Warren region of south-western Australia.

Key results: We found that fox activity was negatively associated with rainfall in the previous 12 months and positively associated with prey abundance and fox baiting intensity. We also found an interaction between fox baiting and prey abundance, with fox activity increasing with prey activity in areas of low and moderate baiting intensity, but remaining constant in areas of high baiting intensity. Feral cat activity was positively associated with prey abundance and fox baiting intensity. We found no clear relationship between fox and cat activity.

Conclusions: The drivers of the association between fox baiting and fox activity are unclear because intense fox baiting was targeted at areas of known high fox abundance. However, our results indicate that intense fox baiting may be effective at decoupling the positive association between fox activity and prey abundance. Our results also suggest a positive association between fox baiting intensity and feral cat activity, thus supporting the case for integrated fox and cat management.

Implications: We caution interpretation of our results, but note that management of invasive predators could be improved by adjusting the intensity of management in response to changes in environmental conditions and local context (e.g. strategically conducting intense predator management where prey abundance is highest). Improved understanding of these associations requires a monitoring program with sufficient replication and statistical power to detect any treatment effects.

Geary WL, Wayne AF, Tulloch AIT, Ritchie EG, Maxwell MA, Doherty TS (2022) Fox and cat responses to fox baiting intensity, rainfall and prey abundance in the Upper Warren, Western Australia. Wildlife Research PDF DOI


Interspecific variation in the diet of a native apex predator and invasive mesopredator in an alpine ecosystem

Authors: Eilysh R Thompson, Don A Driscoll, Susanna E Venn, William L Geary, and Euan G Ritchie

Published in: Austral Ecology


Carnivores have key ecological roles in structuring and regulating ecosystems through their impacts on prey populations. When apex- and meso-predators co-occur in ecosystems, there is the potential for complex interspecific interactions and trophic dynamics that can affect the composition and functioning of ecological communities.

Investigating the diet of sympatric carnivores can allow us to better understand their ecological roles (e.g. potential suppression of herbivores) or impacts (e.g. predation of threatened species).

Australia’s alpine region provides an ideal system in which to explore spatial and temporal variation in predator and prey interactions, using the dingo (Canis dingo) and invasive red fox (Vulpes vulpes) diet.

We examined the diet of dingoes and foxes across three different mountains and seasons in Victoria’s alpine region, using macroscopic scat analysis.

There was little diet overlap between the two carnivores, with foxes having a broader diet than dingoes. Dingoes primarily consumed larger mammal species, including invasive sambar deer (Cervus unicolor, 44%), and the native common wombat (Vombatus ursinus, 34%), whereas foxes typically consumed smaller mammals, including the native bush rat (Rattus fuscipes, 55%), and the invasive European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus, 15%). Dingoes consumed more than thirty times the volume of large invasive mammals (predominantly sambar deer) than did foxes. Foxes consumed close to 15 times as many critical weight range individuals per scat than dingoes. Only one threatened critical weight range mammal species was identified within scats, the broad-toothed rat (Mastacomys fuscus), found within five fox scats.

Our results suggest that the introduction of novel prey may alter predator–predator interactions by causing a reduction in the dietary overlap. Therefore, in the context of integrated wildlife management and biodiversity conservation, any control of novel, invasive prey populations needs to consider possible flow on effects to apex- and meso-predator diets and potential secondary impacts on native prey.

Thompson ER, Driscoll DA, Venn SE, Geary WL, Ritchie EG (2022) Interspecific variation in the diet of a native apex predator and invasive mesopredator in an alpine ecosystem. Austral Ecology PDF DOI


What do you mean, ‘megafire’?

Authors: Grant D Linley, Chris J Jolly, Tim S Doherty, William L Geary, Dolors Armenteras, Claire M Belcher, Rebecca Bliege Bird, Andrea Duane, Michael‐Shawn Fletcher, Melisa A Giorgis, Angie Haslem, Gavin M Jones, Luke T Kelly, Calvin KF Lee, Rachael H Nolan, Catherine L Parr, Juli G Pausas, Jodi N Price, Adrián Regos, Euan G Ritchie, Julien Ruffault, Grant J Williamson, Qianhan Wu, and Dale G Nimmo

Published in: Global Ecology and Biogeography


Background: ‘Megafire’ is an emerging concept commonly used to describe fires that are extreme in terms of size, behaviour, and/or impacts, but the term’s meaning remains ambiguous.

Approach: We sought to resolve ambiguity surrounding the meaning of ‘megafire’ by conducting a structured review of the use and definition of the term in several languages in the peer-reviewed scientific literature. We collated definitions and descriptions of megafire and identified criteria frequently invoked to define megafire. We recorded the size and location of megafires and mapped them to reveal global variation in the size of fires described as megafires.

Results: We identified 109 studies that define the term ‘megafire’ or identify a megafire, with the term first appearing in the peer-reviewed literature in 2005. Seventy-one (~65%) of these studies attempted to describe or define the term. There was considerable variability in the criteria used to define megafire, although definitions of megafire based on fire size were most common. Megafire size thresholds varied geographically from > 100–100,000 ha, with fires > 10,000 ha the most common size threshold (41%, 18/44 studies). Definitions of megafire were most common from studies led by authors from North America (52%, 37/71). We recorded 137 instances from 84 studies where fires were reported as megafires, the vast majority (94%, 129/137) of which exceed 10,000 ha in size. Megafires occurred in a range of biomes, but were most frequently described in forested biomes (112/137, 82%), and usually described single ignition fires (59% 81/137).

Conclusion: As Earth’s climate and ecosystems change, it is important that scientists can communicate trends in the occurrence of larger and more extreme fires with clarity. To overcome ambiguity, we suggest a definition of megafire as fires > 10,000 ha arising from single or multiple related ignition events. We introduce two additional terms – gigafire (> 100,000 ha) and terafire (> 1,000,000 ha) – for fires of an even larger scale than megafires.

Linley GD, Jolly CJ, Doherty TS, Geary WL, Armenteras D, Belcher CM, Bliege Bird R, Duane A, Fletcher M, Giorgis MA, Haslem A, Jones GM, Kelly LT, Lee CKF, Nolan RH, Parr CL, Pausas JG, Price JN, Regos A, Ritchie EG, Ruffault J, Williamson GJ, Wu Q, Nimmo DG, Poulter B (2022) What do you mean, ‘megafire’? Global Ecology and Biogeography PDF DOI


Fire as a driver and mediator of predator–prey interactions

Authors: Tim S Doherty, William L Geary, Chris J Jolly, Kristina J Macdonald, Vivianna Miritis, Darcy J Watchorn, Michael J Cherry, Mike L Conner, Tania Marisol González, Sarah M Legge, Euan G Ritchie, Clare Stawski, and Chris R Dickman

Published in: Biological Reviews


Both fire and predators have strong influences on the population dynamics and behaviour of animals, and the effects of predators may either be strengthened or weakened by fire. However, knowledge of how fire drives or mediates predator–prey interactions is fragmented and has not been synthesised.

Here, we review and synthesise knowledge of how fire influences predator and prey behaviour and interactions. We develop a conceptual model based on predator–prey theory and empirical examples to address four key questions:

  1. how and why do predators respond to fire;
  2. how and why does prey vulnerability change post-fire;
  3. what mechanisms do prey use to reduce predation risk post-fire; and
  4. what are the outcomes of predator–fire interactions for prey populations?

We then discuss these findings in the context of wildlife conservation and ecosystem management before outlining priorities for future research.

Fire-induced changes in vegetation structure, resource availability, and animal behaviour influence predator–prey encounter rates, the amount of time prey are vulnerable during an encounter, and the conditional probability of prey death given an encounter. How a predator responds to fire depends on fire characteristics (e.g. season, severity), their hunting behaviour (ambush or pursuit predator), movement behaviour, territoriality, and intra-guild dynamics.

Prey species that rely on habitat structure for avoiding predation often experience increased predation rates and lower survival in recently burnt areas. By contrast, some prey species benefit from the opening up of habitat after fire because it makes it easier to detect predators and to modify their behaviour appropriately.

Reduced prey body condition after fire can increase predation risk either through impaired ability to escape predators, or increased need to forage in risky areas due to being energetically stressed. To reduce risk of predation in the post-fire environment, prey may change their habitat use, increase sheltering behaviour, change their movement behaviour, or use camouflage through cryptic colouring and background matching.Field experiments and population viability modelling show instances where fire either amplifies or does not amplify the impacts of predators on prey populations, and vice versa. In some instances, intense and sustained post-fire predation may lead to local extinctions of prey populations.

Human disruption of fire regimes is impacting faunal communities, with consequences for predator and prey behaviour and population dynamics.

Key areas for future research include:

  • capturing data continuously before, during and after fires;
  • teasing out the relative importance of changes in visibility and shelter availability in different contexts;
  • documenting changes in acoustic and olfactory cues for both predators and prey;
  • addressing taxonomic and geographic biases in the literature; and
  • predicting and testing how changes in fire-regime characteristics reshape predator–prey interactions.

Understanding and managing the consequences for predator–prey communities will be critical for effective ecosystem management and species conservation in this era of global change.

Doherty TS, Geary WL, Jolly CJ, Macdonald KJ, Miritis V, Watchorn DJ, Cherry MJ, Conner LM, González TM, Legge SM, Ritchie EG, Stawski C, Dickman CR (2022) Fire as a driver and mediator of predator–prey interactions. Biological Reviews PDF DOI

Publications Research

Beyond spatial overlap: harnessing new technologies to resolve the complexities of predator–prey interactions

Authors: Justin P Suraci, Justine A Smith, Simon Chamaillé-Jammes, Kaitlyn M Gaynor, Menna Jones, Barney Luttbeg, Euan G Ritchie, Michael J Sheriff, and Andrew Sih

Published in: Oikos


Predation risk, the probability that a prey animal will be killed by a predator, is fundamental to theoretical and applied ecology. Predation risk varies with animal behavior and environmental conditions, yet attempts to understand predation risk in natural systems often ignore important ecological and environmental complexities, relying instead on proxies for actual risk such as predator–prey spatial overlap.

Here we detail the ecological and environmental complexities driving disconnects between three stages of the predation sequence that are often assumed to be tightly linked: spatial overlap, encounters and prey capture. Our review highlights several major sources of variability in natural predator–prey systems that lead to the decoupling of spatial overlap estimates from actual encounter rates (e.g. temporal activity patterns, predator and prey movement capacity, resource limitations) and that affect the probability of prey capture given encounter (e.g. predator hunger levels, temporal, topographic and other environmental influences on capture success). Emerging technologies and statistical methods are facilitating a transition to a more spatiotemporally detailed, mechanistic understanding of predator–prey interactions, allowing for the concurrent examination of multiple stages of the predation sequence in mobile, free-ranging animals.

We describe crucial applications of this new understanding to fundamental and applied ecology, highlighting opportunities to better integrate ecological contingencies into dynamic predator–prey models and to harness a mechanistic understanding of predator–prey interactions to improve targeting and effectiveness of conservation interventions.

Suraci JP, Smith JA, Chamaillé‐Jammes S, Gaynor KM, Jones M, Luttbeg B, Ritchie EG, Sheriff MJ, Sih A (2022) Beyond spatial overlap: harnessing new technologies to resolve the complexities of predator–prey interactions. Oikos PDF DOI


Australia’s biodiversity crisis and opportunity

Author: Euan G Ritchie

Published in: Science (Letters)

Australia is failing to meet its international obligations to conserve its unique native biodiversity and ecosystems. Most of Australia’s plants and animals are found nowhere else on Earth, but since colonization about 230 years ago, at least 100 endemic species have been driven to extinction, and 17 ecosystems spanning the continent are now showing signs of collapse. Many more species face the same grim fate, with more than 1900 species and ecological communities currently listed as of conservation concern under Australia’s centerpiece environmental legislation, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. Numerous reports demonstrate that Australia is simply not doing enough to address key threats to biodiversity, including land clearing and urbanization, invasive species, altered fire regimes, pollution, disease, and climate change. Despite being a member of the G20, Australian federal and state government environmental spending is well short of what’s required to reverse the nation’s biodiversity extinction trajectory.

A stark example of this failure is the newly announced priority threatened species list. Just 100 threatened species — fewer than 6% of the country’s listed threatened species — are earmarked for conservation attention and AUS $10 million of new funding, equating to about $100,000 per species. Of Australia’s Critically Endangered or Endangered species, only 2 of 25 frog species (8%), 7 of 53 invertebrate species (13.2%), and 28 of 776 plant species (3.6%) make the priority list.

Stronger environmental laws, combined with a substantial increase in investment in environmental and conservation spending, will not only benefit Australia’s biodiversity but also undoubtedly deliver substantial social, cultural, and economic benefits. The international community is moving to implement a new post-2020 global biodiversity framework, and heads of state recently met at the United Nations Climate Change Conference to chart a course to avert the climate change crisis deepening. Australia must be a leader of change, not a laggard.

Ritchie EG (2022) Australia’s biodiversity crisis and opportunity. Science PDF DOI


Twenty important research questions in microbial exposure and social equity

Authors: Jake M Robinson, Nicole Redvers, Araceli Camargo, Christina A Bosch, Martin F Breed, Lisa A Brenner, Megan A Carney, Ashvini Chauhan, Mauna Dasari, Leslie G Dietz, Michael Friedman, Laura Grieneisen, Andrew J Hoisington, Patrick F Horve, Ally Hunter, Sierra Jech, Anna Jorgensen, Christopher A Lowry, Ioana Man, Gwynne Mhuireach, Edauri Navarro-Pérez, Euan G Ritchie, Justin D Stewart, Harry Watkins, Philip Weinstein, Suzanne L Ishaq

Published in: mSystems (American Society for Microbiology)


Social and political policy, human activities, and environmental change affect the ways in which microbial communities assemble and interact with people. These factors determine how different social groups are exposed to beneficial and/or harmful microorganisms, meaning microbial exposure has an important socioecological justice context. Therefore, greater consideration of microbial exposure and social equity in research, planning, and policy is imperative.

Here, we identify 20 research questions considered fundamentally important to promoting equitable exposure to beneficial microorganisms, along with safeguarding resilient societies and ecosystems. The 20 research questions we identified span seven broad themes, including the following:

  1. sociocultural interactions;
  2. Indigenous community health and well-being;
  3. humans, urban ecosystems, and environmental processes;
  4. human psychology and mental health;
  5. microbiomes and infectious diseases;
  6. human health and food security; and
  7. microbiome-related planning, policy, and outreach.

Our goal was to summarize this growing field and to stimulate impactful research avenues while providing focus for funders and policymakers.

Robinson JM, Redvers N, Camargo A, Bosch CA, Breed MF, Brenner LA, Carney MA, Chauhan A, Dasari M, Dietz LG, Friedman M, Grieneisen L, Hoisington AJ, Horve PF, Hunter A, Jech S, Jorgensen A, Lowry CA, Man I, Mhuireach G, Navarro-Pérez E, Ritchie EG, Stewart JD, Watkins H, Weinstein P, Ishaq SL (2022) Twenty Important Research Questions in Microbial Exposure and Social Equity. mSystems PDF DOI 


Creating testable questions in practical conservation: a process and 100 questions

Authors: William J Sutherland, Jake M Robinson, David C Aldridge, Tim Alamenciak, Matthew Armes, Nina Baranduin, Andrew J Bladon, Martin F Breed, Nicki Dyas, Chris S Elphick, Richard A Griffiths, Jonny Hughes, Beccy Middleton, Nick A Littlewood, Roger Mitchell, William H Morgan, Roy Mosley, Silviu O Petrovan, Kit Prendergast, Euan G Ritchie, Hugh Raven, Rebecca K Smith, Sarah H Watts, and Ann Thornton

Published in: Conservation Evidence


It is now clear that the routine embedding of experiments into conservation practice is essential for creating reasonably comprehensive evidence of the effectiveness of actions. However, an important barrier is the stage of identifying testable questions that are both useful but also realistic to carry out without a major research project. We identified approaches for generating such suitable questions. A team of 24 participants crowdsourced suggestions, resulting in a list of a hundred possible tests of actions.

Sutherland WJ, Robinson JM, Aldridge DC, Alamenciak T, Armes M, Baranduin N, Bladon AJ, Breed MF, Dyas N, Elphick CS, Griffiths RA, Hughes J, Middleton B, Littlewood NA, Mitchell R, Morgan WH, Mosley R, Petrovan SO, Prendergast K, Ritchie EG, Raven H, Smith RK, Watts SH & Thornton A (2022) EDITORIAL Creating testable questions in practical conservation: a process and 100 questions. Conservation Evidence PDF DOI


Compounding and complementary carnivores: Australian bird species eaten by the introduced European red fox Vulpes vulpes and domestic cat Felis catus

Authors: John C Z Woinarski, Alyson M Stobo-Wilson, Heather M Crawford, Stuart J Dawson, Chris R Dickman, Tim S Doherty, Patricia A Fleming, Stephen T Garnett, 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 Brett P Murphy

Published in: Bird Conservation International


Two introduced carnivores, the European red fox Vulpes vulpes and domestic cat Felis catus, have had extensive impacts on Australian biodiversity. In this study, we collate information on consumption of Australian birds by the fox, paralleling a recent study reporting on birds consumed by cats.

We found records of consumption by foxes on 128 native bird species (18% of the non-vagrant bird fauna and 25% of those species within the fox’s range), a smaller tally than for cats (343 species, including 297 within the fox’s Australian range, a subset of that of the cat). Most (81%) bird species eaten by foxes are also eaten by cats, suggesting that predation impacts are compounded.

As with consumption by cats, birds that nest or forage on the ground are most likely to be consumed by foxes. However, there is also some partitioning, with records of consumption by foxes but not cats for 25 bird species, indicating that impacts of the two predators may also be complementary. Bird species ≥3.4 kg were more likely to be eaten by foxes, and those <3.4 kg by cats.

Our compilation provides an inventory and describes characteristics of Australian bird species known to be consumed by foxes, but we acknowledge that records of predation do not imply population-level impacts. Nonetheless, there is sufficient information from other studies to demonstrate that fox predation has significant impacts on the population viability of some Australian birds, especially larger birds, and those that nest or forage on the ground.

Woinarski JCZ, Stobo-Wilson AM, Crawford HM, Dawson SJ, Dickman CR, Doherty TS, Fleming PA, Garnett ST, Gentle MN, Legge SM, Newsome TM, Palmer R, Rees MW, Ritchie EG, Speed J, Stuart JM, Thompson E, Turpin J, Murphy BP (2021) Compounding and complementary carnivores: Australian bird species eaten by the introduced European red fox Vulpes vulpes and domestic cat Felis catus. Bird Conservation International PDF DOI 


A brief history of the northern quoll (Dasyurus hallucatus): a systematic review

Authors: Harry A Moore, Judy A Dunlop, Chris J Jolly, Ella Kelly, John C Z Woinarski, Euan G Ritchie, Scott Burnett, Stephen van Leeuwen, Leonie E Valentine, Mitchell A Cowan, and Dale G Nimmo.

Published in: Australian Mammalogy


In response to Australia’s current extinction crisis, substantial research efforts have been targeted towards some of the most imperilled species. One such species is the northern quoll (Dasyurus hallucatus), a marsupial predator that has recently suffered substantial declines in range and is now listed as Endangered.

We conducted a systematic review of all literature relevant to the conservation and ecology of northern quolls. We reviewed 143 studies, including research articles, government and industry reports, theses, and books, and quantified research effort in terms of topic, location, and publication period. We then summarised research relevant to northern quoll taxonomy, genetics, distribution, habitat associations, diet, reproduction, movement, threats, management, and Indigenous knowledge. Research effort was higher between 2011 and 2020 than the previous four decades combined.

Northern quolls in the Northern Territory were the most studied, followed by the Pilbara, the Kimberley, and Queensland populations. Most studies focused on northern quoll distribution and habitat, management, and threats – primarily cane toads, predation, and fire.

We conclude with a non-exhaustive list of ten future research directions. If pursued, these future research directions should provide information critical to managing and conserving northern quolls.

Moore HA, Dunlop JA, Jolly CJ, Kelly E, Woinarski JCZ, Ritchie EG, Burnett S, van Leeuwen S, Valentine LE, Cowan MA, Nimmo DG (2021) A brief history of the northern quoll (Dasyurus hallucatus): a systematic review. Australian Mammalogy PDF DOI

Publications Research

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


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

Publications Research

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


Diet of the introduced red fox Vulpes vulpes in Australia: analysis of temporal and spatial patterns

Authors: Patricia A Fleming, Heather M Crawford, Alyson M Stobo-Wilson, Stuart J Dawson, Christopher R Dickman, Shannon J Dundas, Matthew N Gentle, Thomas M Newsome, Julie O’Connor, Russell Palmer, Joanna Riley, Euan G Ritchie, James Speed, Glen Saunders, John-Michael D Stuart, Eilysh Thompson, Je! M Turpin, John C Z Woinarski

Published in: Mammal Review

The red fox Vulpes vulpes is one of the world’s most widespread carnivores. A key to its success has been its broad, opportunistic diet. The fox was introduced to Australia about 150 years ago, and within 30 years of its introduction was already recognised as a threat to livestock and native wildlife.

We reviewed 85 fox diet studies (totalling 31693 samples) from throughout the species’ geographic range within Australia. Mammals were a major component of fox diet, being present in 70 ± 19% of samples across n = 160 locations. Invertebrates (38 ± 26% n = 130) and plant material (26 ± 25% n = 123) were also both staple foods and often the dominant food category recorded. Birds (13 ± 11% n = 137) and reptiles (10 ± 15% n = 132) were also commonly reported, while frogs were scarcely represented (1.6 ± 3.6% n = 111) in fox diet studies.

Biogeographical differences reveal factors that likely determine prey availability. Diet composition varied with ecosystem, level of vegetation clearing and condition, and climate zone.

Sample type (i.e. stomach versus scat samples) also significantly influenced reporting of diet composition. Livestock and frogs were underrepresented in records based on analysis of scats, whereas small mammals (native rodents, dasyurid marsupials, and bats) were more likely to be recorded in studies of scats than in studies of stomach contents.

Diet varied seasonally, reflecting activity patterns of prey species and food availability. This synthesis also captures temporal shifts in fox diet over 70 years (1951–2020), as foxes have switched to consuming more native species in the wake of successful broadscale biological control of the invasive European rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus.

Diet analyses, such as those summarised in this review, capture the evidence required to motivate for greater control of foxes in Australia. This synthesis also highlights the importance of integrated pest species management to meet biodiversity conservation outcomes.

Fleming PA, Crawford HM, Stobo‐Wilson AM, Dawson SJ, Dickman CR, Dundas SJ, Gentle MN, Newsome TM, O’Connor J, Palmer R, Riley J, Ritchie EG, Speed J, Saunders G, Stuart JD, Thompson E, Turpin JM, Woinarski JCZ (2021) Diet of the introduced red fox Vulpes vulpes in Australia: analysis of temporal and spatial patterns. Mammal Review PDF DOI

Publications Research

Fire and its interactions with other drivers shape a distinctive, semi-arid ‘mallee’ ecosystem

Authors: Michael F Clarke, Luke T Kelly, Sarah C Avitabile, Joe Benshemesh, Kate E Callister, Don A Driscoll, Peter Ewin, Katherine Giljohann, Angie Haslem, Sally A Kenny, Steve Leonard, Euan G Ritchie, Dale G Nimmo, Natasha Schedvin, Kathryn Schneider, Simon J Watson, Martin Westbrooke, Matt White, Michael A Wouters, and Andrew F Bennett

Published in: Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution


Fire shapes ecosystems globally, including semi-arid ecosystems. In Australia, semi-arid ‘mallee’ ecosystems occur primarily across the southern part of the continent, forming an interface between the arid interior and temperate south. Mallee vegetation is characterized by short, multi-stemmed eucalypts that grow from a basal lignotuber. Fire shapes the structure and functioning of mallee ecosystems.

Using the Murray Mallee region in south-eastern Australia as a case study, we examine the characteristics and role of fire, the consequences for biota, and the interaction of fire with other drivers.

Wildfires in mallee ecosystems typically are large (1000s ha), burn with high severity, commonly cause top-kill of eucalypts, and create coarse-grained mosaics at a regional scale. Wildfires can occur in late spring and summer in both dry and wet years. Recovery of plant and animal communities is predictable and slow, with regeneration of eucalypts and many habitat components extending over decades. Time since the last fire strongly influences the distribution and abundance of many species and the structure of plant and animal communities.

Animal species display a discrete set of generalized responses to time since fire. Systematic field studies and modeling are beginning to reveal how spatial variation in fire regimes (‘pyrodiversity’) at different scales shapes biodiversity. Pyrodiversity includes variation in the extent of post-fire habitats, the diversity of post-fire age-classes and their configuration.

At regional scales, a desirable mix of fire histories for biodiversity conservation includes a combination of early, mid and late post-fire age-classes, weighted toward later seral stages that provide critical habitat for threatened species. Biodiversity is also influenced by interactions between fire and other drivers, including land clearing, rainfall, herbivory and predation.

Extensive clearing for agriculture has altered the nature and impact of fire, and facilitated invasion by pest species that modify fuels, fire regimes and post-fire recovery.

Given the natural and anthropogenic drivers of fire and the consequences of their interactions, we highlight opportunities for conserving mallee ecosystems. These include learning from and fostering Indigenous knowledge of fire, implementing actions that consider synergies between fire and other processes, and strategic monitoring of fire, biodiversity and other drivers to guide place-based, adaptive management under climate change.

Clarke MF, Kelly LT, Avitabile SC, Benshemesh J, Callister KE, Driscoll DA, Ewin P, Giljohann K, Haslem A, Kenny SA, Leonard S, Ritchie EG, Nimmo DG, Schedvin N, Schneider K, Watson SJ, Westbrooke M, White M, Wouters MA, Bennett AF (2021) Fire and its interactions with other drivers shape a distinctive, semi-arid ‘mallee’ ecosystem, Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution PDF DOI

Publications Research

Assessing the benefits of integrated introduced predator management for recovery of native predators

Authors: Tim S Jessop, Ben Holmes, Arvel Sendjojo, Mary O Thorpe, and Euan G Ritchie

Published in: Restoration Ecology


Increasingly threatened species and their habitats require multiple successful management actions to ensure persistence. Introduced predator exclusion and suppression programs are key conservation actions used to retain or restore Australian ecosystems. Nevertheless, few direct comparisons are made to ascertain the individual and combined efficacy of multiple introduced predator conservation actions to benefit biodiversity. When colocated, both management actions could generate additive conservation benefits that greatly assist the recovery or persistence of threatened native species.

Varanid lizards are key functional components in Australian predator guilds and could benefit, via ecological release, when introduced predator management actions are successful. Here we tested the effects of a colocated predator-exclusion fence and lethal fox baiting on varanid site occupancy in a semiarid protected area.

Varanid site occupancy was higher at sites inside (Ψ = 0.90 ± 0.26) compared to sites outside (Ψ = 0.61 ± 0.28) the introduced predator-proof fenced enclosure. There was only weak evidence of increased varanid site occupancy at fox baited sites (Ψ = 0.037 ± 0.024) compared to nonfox baited (Ψ = 0.00) sites.

Overall, colocated introduced predator management actions achieved some additive benefits via possible spillover fencing effects for native mesopredator populations. However, most potential benefits to varanid populations outside of the predator-proof fenced enclosure were absent due to unsuccessful lethal-baiting effects on fox populations. The predator-proof fenced enclosure nevertheless provides important habitat refugia for future source populations for reintroduction once adjacent protected areas become suitable.

Jessop TS, Holmes B, Sendjojo A, Thorpe MO, Ritchie EG (2021) Assessing the benefits of integrated introduced predator management for recovery of native predators. Restoration Ecology PDF DOI


A rocky heart in a spinifex sea: occurrence of an endangered marsupial predator is multiscale dependent in naturally fragmented landscapes

Authors: Harry A Moore, Damian R Michael, Euan G Ritchie, Judy A Dunlop, Leonie E Valentine, Richard J Hobbs, and Dale G Nimmo

Published in: Landscape Ecology



Research on the impacts of anthropogenic habitat fragmentation has dominated landscape ecology for decades, yet our understanding of what drives species’ distributions in naturally fragmented landscapes remains limited.


We aimed to

  1. determine whether rocky patches embedded within a ‘matrix’ of fire prone grasslands act as naturally fragmented landscapes for an endangered marsupial predator, the northern quoll (Dasyurus hallucatus), and
  2. reveal the extent to which within-patch, patch, landscape variables, and matrix condition drive the occurrence of northern quolls.


We deployed remote sensing cameras for a total of 200 nights, at 230 sites spanning rocky and grassland habitats across 6000 km2 of the Pilbara bioregion of Western Australia. We examined the influence of within-patch, patch, landscape variables, and matrix condition on northern quolls using Generalised Linear Mixed Models.


We found strong evidence that northern quoll habitat is naturally fragmented, observing higher occurrence and abundance of quolls in rocky patches than the surrounding grassland matrix. Within rocky patches, quolls were more likely to use patches with higher vegetation cover and den availability (within-patch), lower amounts of edge habitat relative to patch area (patch), and larger amounts of surrounding rocky habitat (landscape). When quolls entered the matrix, they tended to remain in areas with high vegetation cover, close to rocky patches.


Species occurrence in naturally fragmented landscapes is influenced by factors operating at multiple scales. Rocky habitats are naturally fragmented and vital to the conservation of a range of taxa around the world, including the northern quoll.

Moore HA, Michael DR, Ritchie EG, Dunlop JA, Valentine LE, Hobbs RJ, Nimmo DG (2021) A rocky heart in a spinifex sea: occurrence of an endangered marsupial predator is multiscale dependent in naturally fragmented landscapes. Landscape Ecology PDF DOI


Combating ecosystem collapse from the tropics to the Antarctic

Authors: Dana M Bergstrom, Barbara C Wienecke, John van den Hoff, Lesley Hughes, David B Lindenmayer Tracy D Ainsworth, Christopher M Baker, Lucie Bland, David M J S Bowman, Shaun T Brooks, Josep G Canadell, Andrew J Constable, Katherine A Dafforn, Michael H Depledge, Catherine R Dickson Norman C Duke, Kate J Helmstedt, Andrés Holz, Craig R Johnson, Melodie A McGeoch, Jessica Melbourne‐Thomas, Rachel Morgain, Emily Nicholson, Suzanne M Prober, Ben Raymond, Euan G Ritchie, Sharon A Robinson, Katinka X Ruthrof, Samantha A Setterfield, Carla M Sgrò, Jonathan S Stark, Toby Travers, Rowan Trebilco, Delphi F L Ward, Glenda M Wardle, Kristen J Williams, Phillip J Zylstra, and Justine D Shaw

Published in: Global Change Biology


Globally, collapse of ecosystems—potentially irreversible change to ecosystem structure, composition and function—imperils biodiversity, human health and well‐being.

We examine the current state and recent trajectories of 19 ecosystems, spanning 58° of latitude across 7.7 M km², from Australia’s coral reefs to terrestrial Antarctica.

Pressures from global climate change and regional human impacts, occurring as chronic ‘presses’ and/or acute ‘pulses’, drive ecosystem collapse. Ecosystem responses to 5–17 pressures were categorised as four collapse profiles—abrupt, smooth, stepped and fluctuating.

The manifestation of widespread ecosystem collapse is a stark warning of the necessity to take action.

We present a three‐step assessment and management framework (3As Pathway Awareness, Anticipation and Action) to aid strategic and effective mitigation to alleviate further degradation to help secure our future.

Bergstrom DM, Wienecke BC, Hoff J, Hughes L, Lindenmayer DB, Ainsworth TD, Baker CM, Bland L, Bowman DMJS, Brooks ST, Canadell JG, Constable AJ, Dafforn KA, Depledge MH, Dickson CR, Duke NC, Helmstedt KJ, Holz A, Johnson CR, McGeoch MA, Melbourne‐Thomas J, Morgain R, Nicholson E, Prober SM, Raymond B, Ritchie EG, Robinson SA, Ruthrof KX, Setterfield SA, Sgrò CM, Stark JS, Travers T, Trebilco R, Ward DFL, Wardle GM, Williams KJ, Zylstra PJ, Shaw JD (2021) Combating ecosystem collapse from the tropics to the Antarctic. Global Change Biology PDF DOI


Broadening the ecology of fear: non-lethal effects arise from diverse responses to predation and parasitism

Authors: David R Daversa, Ryan F Hechinger, Elizabeth Madin, Andy Fenton, Anthony I Dell, Euan G Ritchie, Jason Rohr, Volker HW Rudolf, and Kevin D Lafferty

Published in: Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences


Research on the ‘ecology of fear’ posits that defensive prey responses to avoid predation can cause non-lethal effects across ecological scales. Parasites also elicit defensive responses in hosts with associated non-lethal effects, which raises the longstanding, yet unresolved question of how non-lethal effects of parasites compare with those of predators.

We developed a framework for systematically answering this question for all types of predator–prey and host–parasite systems. Our framework reveals likely differences in non-lethal effects not only between predators and parasites, but also between different types of predators and parasites.

Trait responses should be strongest towards predators, parasitoids and parasitic castrators, but more numerous and perhaps more frequent for parasites than for predators. In a case study of larval amphibians, whose trait responses to both predators and parasites have been relatively well studied, existing data indicate that individuals generally respond more strongly and proactively to short-term predation risks than to parasitism.

Apart from studies using amphibians, there have been few direct comparisons of responses to predation and parasitism, and none have incorporated responses to micropredators, parasitoids or parasitic castrators, or examined their long-term consequences.

Addressing these and other data gaps highlighted by our framework can advance the field towards understanding how non-lethal effects impact prey/host population dynamics and shape food webs that contain multiple predator and parasite species.

Daversa DR, Hechinger RF, Madin E, Fenton A, Dell AI, Ritchie EG, Rohr J, Rudolf VHW, Lafferty KD (2021) Broadening the ecology of fear: non-lethal effects arise from diverse responses to predation and parasitism. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences PDF DOI