Researchers examine impact of dingo population on feral cats

Oct 24, 2012

Are dingoes the top dog in the Australian bush and do they have a role in protecting our native biodiversity against the impacts of feral cats?

A new study, led by James Cook University researchers and published in the , suggests that dingoes may be keeping feral cats at bay in , and preventing them getting free access to native wildlife.

Leila Brook, a PhD Candidate in JCU's School of Marine and , said previous studies had suggested dingoes could suppress foxes and feral cats by attacking and killing them. However, cats could still be found where there were plenty of dingoes, she said.

"That makes it easy to argue that dingoes make no difference to cats. But cat behaviour might be limited in the presence of dingoes, in ways that could reduce their impact on native animals," she said.

Researchers from JCU, the University of Tasmania and Deakin University surveyed pairs of large cattle properties across northern and central Australia, where one property controlled dingoes using1080 poison baiting and sometimes shooting, and the other left dingoes alone.

"This design allowed us to measure the effects of predator control on dingoes, and test how reduced dingo numbers might affect feral cats," Ms Brook said.

"We found that may be doing more than just reducing dingo numbers, it might actually change their behaviour and effectiveness as a top predator in the Australian food chain.

"We found that as dingoes were removed in higher numbers using poison baiting, cats were recorded at higher rates, suggesting that cat populations can be larger in areas with fewer dingoes."

The researchers also looked at the predators' activity patterns.

"Dingoes and feral cats both eat that come out at dusk. Where dingoes were left alone, they were mainly active in the evening and at dawn when they hunt wallabies and kangaroos. But dingo activity was much lower in the evening where dingoes were baited.

"Feral cats on the other hand, had higher activity levels in the evening in the baited areas, filling the time gap when dingo activity was low. This suggests they can take advantage of the reduced risk of dingo encounter, to hunt at an ideal time for finding and killing small mammals and nocturnal reptiles such as geckos."

Ms Brook said that if dingo activity declined in the evening, feral cats could hunt wildlife when they were most active, without the threat of harassment from the larger predator.

With free access at these times, they could exert a stronger negative impact on wildlife such as small mammals."

Ms Brook said the study suggested that the interaction between dingoes and cats was more subtle than previously thought.

"It involves behaviour as well as numbers of cats. This also means that could have a bigger role in preventing cat impacts than has been thought, which is good news for .

"These interactions may be particularly important in northern Australia, where feral cats are likely contributors to the recent widespread decline in mammals across the Top End."

Explore further: Orchid named after UC Riverside researcher

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Study suggests new method of identifying native species

Feb 16, 2012

(PhysOrg.com) -- A radically new way to determine whether an introduced species has become a native species - by observing the reactions of other local species - is outlined in research by the University of ...

Study challenges popular image of dingo

Feb 23, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- A recent study of dingoes in the Blue Mountains challenges the postcard image of dingoes as only being white pawed and sandy coloured.

Thylacine hunting behavior: Case of crying wolf?

May 04, 2011

Its head and body looked like a dog, yet its striped coat was cat-like. It carried its young in a pouch, like a kangaroo. No wonder the thylacine — the enigmatic, iconic creature of Australia and Tasmania ...

Dingoes, like wolves, are smarter than pet dogs

Jun 11, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Studies in the past have shown that wolves are smarter than domesticated dogs when it comes to solving spatial problems, and now new research has shown that dingoes also solve the problems ...

Recommended for you

Orchid named after UC Riverside researcher

12 hours ago

One day about eight years ago, Katia Silvera, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Riverside, and her father were on a field trip in a mountainous area in central Panama when they stumbled ...

In sex-reversed cave insects, females have the penises

14 hours ago

Researchers reporting in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on April 17 have discovered little-known cave insects with rather novel sex lives. The Brazilian insects, which represent four distinct but re ...

Fear of the cuckoo mafia

14 hours ago

If a restaurant owner fails to pay the protection money demanded of him, he can expect his premises to be trashed. Warnings like these are seldom required, however, as fear of the consequences is enough to ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Deadly human pathogen Cryptococcus fully sequenced

Within each strand of DNA lies the blueprint for building an organism, along with the keys to its evolution and survival. These genetic instructions can give valuable insight into why pathogens like Cryptococcus ne ...

Biologists help solve fungi mysteries

(Phys.org) —A new genetic analysis revealing the previously unknown biodiversity and distribution of thousands of fungi in North America might also reveal a previously underappreciated contributor to climate ...

Better thermal-imaging lens from waste sulfur

Sulfur left over from refining fossil fuels can be transformed into cheap, lightweight, plastic lenses for infrared devices, including night-vision goggles, a University of Arizona-led international team ...

Hackathon team's GoogolPlex gives Siri extra powers

(Phys.org) —Four freshmen at the University of Pennsylvania have taken Apple's personal assistant Siri to behave as a graduate-level executive assistant which, when asked, is capable of adjusting the temperature ...

Chronic inflammation linked to 'high-grade' prostate cancer

Men who show signs of chronic inflammation in non-cancerous prostate tissue may have nearly twice the risk of actually having prostate cancer than those with no inflammation, according to results of a new study led by researchers ...