Les hommes ont oublié cette vérité. Mais tu ne dois pas l'oublier, dit le renard. Tu deviens responsable pour toujours de ce que tu as apprivoisé.
Le Petit Prince, chap. 21

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Predation by feral cats key to the failure of a long-term reintroduction of the western barred bandicoot

Short, J. (2016). Predation by feral cats key to the failure of a long-term reintroduction of the western barred bandicoot (Perameles bougainville). Wildlife Research, 43(1), 38-50.

Context: Reintroduction of endangered species potentially places them back in contact with putative factors of historical decline, inadvertently providing the opportunity to evaluate their impact.

Aims: To monitor the long-term progress of a population of western barred bandicoot reintroduced to mainland Australia and to assess factors involved in its eventual local extinction.

Methods: Bandicoots were reintroduced from offshore Dorre Island to the nearby mainland peninsula of Heirisson Prong in 1995. The narrow neck of the peninsula was fenced to exclude foxes and feral cats from a 1200 ha area, but the area was subject to periodic incursions. There was parallel management of a confined but unsupported population in an in situ 17-ha predator refuge. Bandicoots were assessed for abundance, body condition and reproduction two to four times annually between 1995 and 2010. In addition, perceived threatening processes (drought, disease and the abundance of cats, foxes and rabbits) were monitored.

Key results: Bandicoots became well established at the site, spreading to all available habitat. Numbers fluctuated strongly, peaking at ~250 in 1999 and then declining to apparent local extinction (with subsequent re-establishment from the refuge), and at ~470 animals in 2006, followed again by extinction.

Conclusions: Predation by feral cats was implicated as the primary cause of both free-range extinctions and the eventual elimination of all bandicoots from the predator refuge. Other contributing factors in one or more of the declines were a reduction in reproduction and recruitment in bandicoots during a one-in-100-year drought, the impact of overabundant European rabbits on vegetation used by bandicoots for nesting shelter and brief fox incursions at key times.

Implications: Existing methods of control of feral cats are rendered ineffective in the presence of abundant and diverse native fauna and abundant exotic species (particularly European rabbits). In addition, episodic drought in arid Australia intensifies the impact of predation by restricting reproduction of prey species. These factors hamper the attempts of conservation managers to re-establish vulnerable species at sites other than those with the infrastructure and/or management intensity to largely exclude exotic predators (and preferably European rabbits) over the long-term.

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