Plans to extend Western Australia’s historic ‘rabbit-proof fence’ have been described as cruel and clumsy by environmental groups, who say native wildlife will be the victim.
Dingo expert Dr Euan Ritchie, from Deakin University in Melbourne, says that Australia has an outdated and inefficient approach to pest management. He argues that excluding predators such as dingoes can be counterproductive, leading to more kangaroos and rabbits where those predators are absent.
“We know from other places that setting up barriers can have unforeseen consequences, and we shouldn’t forget the original rabbit-proof fence didn’t keep the rabbits out,” he says. “And why is animal welfare not being talked about in relation to building a fence of this scale?”
Home to some of the most extravagant, eccentric and dangerous animals, Australia also has some of the most endangered wildlife in the world.
Our unique marsupials and monotremes are a source of pride, but Australia also has the dubious honour of the highest extinction rate of any nation.
“Importantly, research clearly shows that biodiversity contributes significantly to our survival, well-being and enjoyment of life, so when we lose species at the rates that we’re currently witnessing, we should be gravely concerned,” says Dr Euan Ritchie an ecologist at Deakin University in Melbourne.
Authors: Leila A Brook, Christopher N Johnson and Euan G Ritchie
Apex predators can benefit ecosystems through top–down control of mesopredators and herbivores. However, apex predators are often subject to lethal control aimed at minimizing attacks on livestock. Lethal control can affect both the abundance and behaviour of apex predators. These changes could in turn influence the abundance and behaviour of mesopredators.
We used remote camera surveys at nine pairs of large Australian rangeland properties, comparing properties that controlled dingoes Canis lupus dingo with properties that did not, to test the effects of predator control on dingo activity and to evaluate the responses of a mesopredator, the feral cat Felis catus.
Indices of dingo abundance were generally reduced on properties that practiced dingo control, in comparison with paired properties that did not, although the effect size of control was variable. Dingoes in uncontrolled populations were crepuscular, similar to major prey. In populations subject to control, dingoes became less active around dusk, and activity was concentrated in the period shortly before dawn.
Shifts in feral cat abundance indices between properties with and without dingo control were inversely related to corresponding shifts in indices of dingo abundance. There was also a negative relationship between predator visitation rates at individual camera stations, suggesting cats avoided areas where dingoes were locally common. Reduced activity by dingoes at dusk was associated with higher activity of cats at dusk.
Our results suggest that effective dingo control not only leads to higher abundance of feral cats, but allows them to optimize hunting behaviour when dingoes are less active. This double effect could amplify the impacts of dingo control on prey species selected by cats. In areas managed for conservation, stable dingo populations may thus contribute to management objectives by restricting feral cat access to prey populations.
Brook L A, Johnson C N, Ritchie E G (2012) Effects of predator control on behaviour of an apex predator and indirect consequences for mesopredator suppression. Journal of Applied Ecology, 49: 1278–1286. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2664.2012.02207.x
The pressure is on. More and more universities and academics are working in a culture that is untenable and cracks in the ivory tower have already begun to appear.
The work environment is now characterised by excessive hours, unrealistic benchmarks, high levels of competitiveness and inflexible work arrangements.
In this article, Joern Fischer and I discuss the growing trend to measure universities and academics by the numbers of papers they produce, the number of citations they receive and the grant dollars they are awarded.
When we talk of conserving an animal species, what do we actually mean? We might think of a rhinoceros (or any other species, for that matter) pursuing its natural way of life in its native environment, perhaps in a reserve or national park. And why should we want to conserve species? Our thinking may not go much beyond the idealistic position that they have a right to exist and that we (and our children and grandchildren) have a right to see them.
This is all well and good, but behind the scenes and out of the range of the spotlight there surely lurks a shadow. Do we conserve a species because we value it in its own right? More often than not, a declining species may be saved because it offers a tangible commodity to be exploited; and it recovers simply because we have found a different way of exploiting it.
The 5500 kilometre long dingo fence is a monument to predator xenophobia and costs millions of dollars annually to maintain, but is it worth it?
It turns out the dingo is a sorely under-utilised weapon in our feral animal arsenal. Pretty much everywhere we’ve looked across Australia, when dingoes are abundant, foxes and cats aren’t, and native marsupials are. It’s called the mesopredator effect, and highlights the important role of predators in maintaining healthy ecosystems.
After some of our comments to the mainstream media were ignored or taken out of context, Corey Bradshaw and I are setting the record straight on dingoes in Australia and how we choose to manage them.