Surveillance in the Simpson suggests a new take on threat to native animals

June 20, 2014

( —A photographic pursuit that would put the paparazzi to shame has captured the private life of wildlife in the Simpson Desert, during both its 'big wet' and dry seasons.

The University of Sydney research suggests a more effective approach to controlling the devastating impact of the feral cat and red fox on Australian native wildlife.

"This research suggests that instead of the ongoing costly effort of trying to control these species it might be more worthwhile to concentrate our control efforts on the large rainfall 'boom' events in central Australia," said Aaron Greenvile, from the University's School of Biological Sciences.

Greenville is the lead author on a paper just published in the journal Oecologia (attached). Co-authors, Professor Chris Dickman, Associate Professor Glenda Wardle and Bobby Tamayo are all collaborators from the Desert Ecology Research Group at the University of Sydney.

"The fox and feral cat have had a drastic effect on the native animals of the interior and have contributed to the extinction of native species. The impact of cats and is well documented. Feral cats place at least 34 threatened native species at high risk of extinction while foxes threaten an estimated 76 ," Greenville said.

"Despite dingoes also being legally defined as native wildlife, they are deliberately killed in some areas of Australia because of their threat to livestock."

For twenty-four hours a day over two years the researchers used sophisticated camera 'traps' placed across an 8000 kilometre area that respond to animals' movement and body heat. The resulting photos provide a detailed visual log of animal activity.

During the research the Simpson Desert experienced the rare event of flooding rains with an accompanying boom in wildlife.

"Our research reveals that when the Simpson Desert experiences such a wet season, currently about every ten years, dingo, cat and fox populations increase but so too do those of all their prey animals. This includes populations of wild mice which have an estimated 60 fold increase in their numbers," said Greenville.

During dry times the dingo is effective at suppressing populations of cats and foxes but with the big increases in prey during the boom time the dingoes are not able to keep up.

So while it might have been expected that dingoes would kill with feral cats and red foxes more during a 'boom and bloom' period, this is in fact when they have least impact because they are faced with much bigger populations and have easier meals, especially rodents, to consume. That is precisely the time when control programs could be most effective.

"The dingo is an unpaid pest species manager that works every day. If we leave them alone, they can help control populations of cats and foxes for free during non-boom periods when prey populations are low and potentially vulnerable. The role of dingoes in suppressing the numbers of and foxes during non-boom periods combined with alternate pest control methods during periods after rains could become an overall management strategy."

Given 70 percent of Australia is semi-arid desert the research in these conditions has widespread relevance, Greenville suggests. There is a concern that the fox will get a permanent foothold on the driest regions of Australia, just as the feral cat population has done.

"In an echo of our relationship with sharks, it is time to decide how we co-exist with this top predator or whether we want the dingo to go the way of the Tasmanian tiger - which by 1936 had been hunted to extinction," said Greenville.

"In fact this research and these debates have significance to similar debates around the world - the leopard in Africa and the grey wolf in North America and Europe."

Explore further: Researchers examine impact of dingo population on feral cats

More information: "Bottom-up and top-down processes interact to modify intraguild interactions in resource-pulse environments." Aaron C. Greenville, Glenda M. Wardle, Bobby Tamayo, Chris R. Dickman Oecologia. June 2014.

Related Stories

Study shows impact of feral cats on lizards in Greek Islands

June 18, 2014

A team of researchers with diverse backgrounds from universities in the U.S. and Greece has conducted a study of the impact of feral cats on Aegean wall lizards living in the Cyclades (Greek islands). In their paper published ...

Recommended for you

A 100-million-year partnership on the brink of extinction

May 24, 2016

A relationship that has lasted for 100 million years is at serious risk of ending, due to the effects of environmental and climate change. A species of spiny crayfish native to Australia and the tiny flatworms that depend ...

Silencing cholera's social media

May 24, 2016

Bacteria use a form of "social media" communication called quorum sensing to monitor how many of their fellow species are in the neighborhood, allowing them to detect changes in density and respond with changes in collective ...

Evolution influenced by temporary microbes

May 24, 2016

Life on Earth often depends on symbiotic relationships between microbes and other forms of life. A new theory suggests that researchers should consider how symbiotic microbes can influence the evolution of life on Earth, ...

Great apes communicate cooperatively

May 24, 2016

Human language is a fundamentally cooperative enterprise, embodying fast-paced interactions. It has been suggested that it evolved as part of a larger adaptation of humans' unique forms of cooperation. In a cross-species ...

Rare evolutionary event detected in the lab

May 23, 2016

It took nearly a half trillion tries before researchers at The University of Texas at Austin witnessed a rare event and perhaps solved an evolutionary puzzle about how introns, non-coding sequences of DNA located within genes, ...

In changing oceans, cephalopods are booming

May 23, 2016

Humans have changed the world's oceans in ways that have been devastating to many marine species. But, according to new evidence, it appears that the change has so far been good for cephalopods, the group including octopuses, ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.