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

Monday, 9 January 2017

Impacts of introduced mammalian predators on New Zealand’s alpine fauna

O’Donnell, C. F., Weston, K. A., & Monks, J. M. (2017). Impacts of introduced mammalian predators on New Zealand’s alpine fauna. New Zealand Journal of Ecology, 41(1), 01-22.

Alpine zones are threatened globally by invasive species, hunting, and habitat loss caused by fire, anthropogenic development and climate change. These global threats are pertinent in New Zealand, with the least understood pressure being the potential impacts of introduced mammalian predators, the focus of this review. In New Zealand, alpine zones include an extensive suite of cold climate ecosystems covering c. 11% of the land mass. They support rich communities of indigenous invertebrates, lizards, fish, and birds. Many taxa are obligate alpine dwellers, though there is uncertainty about the extent to which distributions of some species are relicts of wider historical ranges. The impacts of introduced mammalian predators are well described in many New Zealand ecosystems, though little is known about the impacts of these predators on alpine fauna. Here we review the importance of alpine habitats for indigenous fauna and the impacts of introduced mammalian predators; and develop a conceptual model explaining threat interactions. Most evidence for predation is anecdotal or comes from studies of species with wider ranges and at lower altitudes. Nevertheless, at least ten introduced predator species have been confirmed as frequent predators of native alpine species, particularly among birds and invertebrates. In the case of the endangered takahe (Porphyrio hochstetteri) and rock wren (Xenicus gilviventris), stoats (Mustela erminea) are primary predators, which are likely to be impacting significantly on population viability. We also document records of mammalian predation on alpine lizards and freshwater fish. While the precise impacts on the long-term viability of threatened species have not been evaluated, anecdotal evidence suggests that predation by mammals is a serious threat, warranting predator control. Future research should focus on predicting when and where mammalian predators impact on populations of indigenous fauna, furthering our understanding of the alpine predator guild particularly through adaptive management experiments, and exploring interactions with other threats.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

First population assessment of the black forest cat in Madagascar's rainforests

Farris, Z. J., Boone, H. M., Karpanty, S., Murphy, A., Ratelolahy, F., Andrianjakarivelo, V., & Kelly, M. J. (2016). Feral cats and the fitoaty: first population assessment of the black forest cat in Madagascar’s rainforests. Journal of Mammalogy, 97(2), 518-525.

Despite exceptionally high levels of biodiversity and endemism found in Madagascar, much of its wildlife remains little studied, particularly the carnivore community. The recently described, little-known black forest cat (locally known as “fitoaty”) is believed to be restricted to NE Madagascar and has been investigated only through village surveys and anecdotal accounts. From 2008 to 2012, we photographically sampled 7 forest sites with varying degrees of degradation and fragmentation across Makira Natural Park with the goals of: 1) estimating landscape occupancy for fitoaty (Felis spp.), 2) identifying variables influencing fitoaty occupancy, and 3) comparing fitoaty and feral cat (Felis spp.) occupancy across the landscape. We observed higher occupancy for fitoaty, minimal co-occurrence between fitoaty and feral cats (n = 2 sites), and strong divergence in habitat use. We provide the 1st assessment of fitoaty morphology, including comparisons with anecdotal reports, and the 1st population assessment of Madagascar’s exotic cat community with insights into factors associated with carnivore population trends in Madagascar. We suggest the described fitoaty is a phenotypically different form of the feral cat, but additional research is needed. Targeted management plans are needed to diminish the spread and potential negative effects of invasive cats across this important biologically diverse ecoregion.
Change in the probability of occupancy for fitoaty (black) and Felis spp. (gray) in response to: a) small mammal trap success and b)  distance to village (km). Photographic sampling was conducted across the Masoala-Makira landscape from 2008 to 2012

Feral cats driving the regional extinction of a threatened rodent in northern Australia

Davies, H. F., McCarthy, M. A., Firth, R. S., Woinarski, J. C., Gillespie, G. R., Andersen, A. N., ... & Murphy, B. P. (2016). Top‐down control of species distributions: feral cats driving the regional extinction of a threatened rodent in northern Australia. Diversity and Distributions.


To investigate whether feral cats influence the distribution of Australia's largest remnant population of the threatened brush-tailed rabbit-rat Conilurus penicillatus and examine whether they influenced the extinction probability of C. penicillatus over a 15-year period (2000–2015).


Melville Island, northern Australia.


In 2015, small mammal surveys were conducted at 88 sites across Melville Island, 86 of which had previously been surveyed in 2000–2002. We used single-season occupancy models to investigate correlates of the current distribution of C. penicillatus and dynamic occupancy models to investigate correlates of C. penicillatus local extinction.


Our results show that C. penicillatus, which once occurred more widely across the island, is now restricted to parts of the island where feral cats are rarely detected and shrub density is high. Our results suggest that feral cats are driving C. penicillatus towards extinction on Melville Island, and hence have likely been a significant driver in the decline of this species in northern Australia more broadly. The impact of feral cats appears to be mitigated by vegetation structure.

Main conclusions

The ongoing development and implementation of methods to effectively reduce feral cat densities, coupled with the management of landscape processes to maintain shrub density, through fire management and the removal of large exotic herbivores, will contribute substantially to conserving this threatened species. This study demonstrates that the distribution of species can be strongly influenced by top-down factors such as predation, thereby highlighting the importance of including biotic interactions when investigating the distribution of predation-susceptible species.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Impact of a 3-year pet management program on pet population and owner’s perception

Costa, E. D., Martins, C. M., Cunha, G. R., Catapan, D. C., Ferreira, F., Oliveira, S. T., ... & Biondo, A. W. (2017). Impact of a 3-year pet management program on pet population and owner’s perception. Preventive Veterinary Medicine.

Although pet population management programs have been established worldwide, few reports on program evaluation have been carried out to date. Accordingly, a 3-year longitudinal study has been carried out in a 4,000 household neighborhood located within the metropolitan area of Curitiba, the eighth most populated city of Brazil. Visits were conducted and questionnaires completed to estimate and characterize the local pet population (animal sex, reproductive and vaccination status, street access). Care provided by owners, community perception on stray dog management and the possible changes were compared in these variables over time (2010 and 2013) were evaluated, after the establishment of a city pet population management program. In addition, associations between having children, owning dogs and cats, responsible pet ownership education and owner’s perception on stray dogs were statistically tested. A total of 354/4,000 (8.9%) household families were interviewed in 2010 and 70/354 (19.8%) of the same families again in 2013. No significant changes were found in overall number of dogs and cats and average pet age, animal care and owner’s perception on stray dogs following the 3-year population management program. In 2010, an average of 1.6 dogs and 0.3 cats were found per family, with slightly more females (51.3% dogs and 51.1% cats), adults (4.0 ± 3.5 years for dogs and 2.1 ± 2.4 for cats), intact (not neutered; 94.2% dogs and 84.0% cats) and lacking regular visit to veterinarian (71.6%). Although more families (53.1%) had children under 12 years old, no association was found between having children and having dogs and cats. Questionnaires revealed that owners perceived neutering/spaying to be the best pet population control method (42.4%), with “society” (50%) and “government” (49.4%) as responsible for pet population management. A significant positive association has been found between education level and the best way to control stray dogs (p = 0.03), between having dogs and in favor of neutering/spaying (p = 0.04) and considering neutering/spaying as the best control method (p = 0.02). The chances of thinking the best way to control stray dogs by neutering/spaying and adoption were almost 2.0 fold higher than other methods. In conclusion, the present study has provided indicators (education level, having dogs) for pet population control program assessment and effectiveness evaluation. Moreover, this study may serve as a warning on the real long-term effect of such programs, which should be periodically evaluated to identify necessary adjustments and/or improvements.

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Interactions between invasive predators, native mammals and fire in a forest ecosystem

Hradsky, B. A. K. (2016). Interactions between invasive predators, native mammals and fire in a forest ecosystem (Doctoral dissertation, University of Melbourne).

A predator’s impact upon its prey depends not only on the evolutionary history and intrinsic characteristics of the two species, but also on the structure of the environment in which they interact. Fire is a major driver of vegetation structure, and there is growing concern that fire could increase the threat that invasive predators pose to native fauna. In this thesis, I investigated the interactions between fire, two invasive predators (red foxes Vulpes vulpes and feral cats Felis catus), and a suite of native mammal species. I used four different approaches to examine this problem within a fire-prone forest ecosystem of south-eastern Australia.

At a landscape-scale, species distributions are often poorly predicted by time-since-fire. I developed a conceptual model of the potential interactions between fire and other drivers of faunal occurrence (including predation), and then used non-parametric Bayesian networks to quantify these relationships for terrestrial native mammals. I found that critical-weight-range mammals were more likely to occur at long unburnt sites with high habitat complexity, and in wetter forest types. In contrast, large macropods preferred less complex habitats and younger or drier forest. Species distributions were generally more strongly associated with habitat complexity than time-since-fire or invasive predator occurrence. Yet, because Bayesian networks captured the relationships between proximal and distal drivers, models could effectively predict the distributions of most species using only mapped and remote-sensed data.

At a finer-scale, I used a before-after control-impact experiment to investigate the short-term effects of a prescribed fire on understorey vegetation cover, native mammal occurrence, and invasive predator occurrence and diet. Associations between species occurrences and vegetation cover in unburnt forest indicated that fire was likely to promote invasive predators but disadvantage small- and medium-sized native mammals. After the fire, there was a five-fold increase in invasive predator occurrence at burnt sites, relative to the control. Concurrently, red foxes increased their consumption of medium-sized native mammals, and selected more strongly for long-nosed bandicoots Perameles nasuta and short-beaked echidnas Tachyglossus aculeatus. The occurrence of several native mammals declined after the fire, but it was difficult to distinguish the effects of the fire from seasonal variation.

I used GPS-tracking collars to investigate whether forest-dwelling red foxes selected for human-modified habitats (including recently-burnt forest). There was substantial variation in fox behaviour, highlighting the importance of considering individual variation in habitat selection studies. At a broad-scale, however, red fox habitat selection tended to vary with proximity to the forest edge. Most foxes selected for human-modified habitats such as reservoirs, roads and forest-farmland edges in their fine-scale movements, particularly at night. Two foxes whose home-ranges overlapped a burn-block intensified their use of the block immediately after fire. Yet other nearby foxes showed little response, suggesting that fire responses are highly localised.

Finally, I used an agent-based simulation model to explore how changes in vegetation cover and predator abundance after fire could affect a critical-weight-range mammal. The model confirmed that fire and predation can have synergistically negative impacts on native mammal populations in burnt forest, and that local access to unburnt refuges substantially reduces these effects.

Invasive predators are highly opportunistic, wide-ranging and thoroughly integrated into this flammable forest ecosystem. Lethal control programs for foxes need to consider fox movement across land-tenures, and could selectively target habitat features such as roadsides, forest-farmland edges and recently-burnt forest. Habitat-based management approaches might also reduce invasive predator impacts on native mammals, for example by preserving dense vegetation in unburnt refuges, or removing anthropogenic resources that subsidise predator populations within forests. Evidence-based, integrated management of threatening processes is vital to conserving native biodiversity.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Exotics replace native carnivores in Madagascar rainforest

Farris, Z. J., Kelly, M. J., Karpanty, S., Murphy, A., Ratelolahy, F., Andrianjakarivelo, V., & Holmes, C. (2016). The times they are a changin': Multi-year surveys reveal exotics replace native carnivores at a Madagascar rainforest site. Biological Conservation.

Surveys across multiple seasons or years are necessary to evaluate the effects of dynamic processes on long-term persistence of wildlife populations, such as effects of exotic species on native species populations. Unfortunately, multi-year surveys are rare, particularly for rainforest carnivore populations, and managers often rely on single-season/year, ‘snapshot’ surveys that produce static estimates of population parameters. Here we provide results using single-species, multi-year occupancy modeling from a six-year survey (2008–2013) of a rainforest carnivore community at a 15 km2 area study site within the newly established Makira Natural Park, Madagascar. We demonstrate a precipitous decline in the native carnivore community with four of the six native carnivores (falanouc Eupleres goudotii, ring-tailed vontsira Galidia elegans, broad-striped vontsira Galidictis fasciata, and brown-tailed vontsira Salanoia concolor) decreasing by at least 60% over this six-year period. In addition, we observed two exotic carnivores (small Indian civet Viverricula indica and feral cat Felis species) colonize this study site with Felis species increasing in occupancy from 0 to 0.68 by the final year. Further, we demonstrate how variables associated with human encroachment (i.e. distance to forest edge and nearest village) are most important for explaining these trends in native carnivore extirpation and exotic carnivore colonization. These findings provide additional evidence on the threat posed to native carnivore populations by the expansion of exotic carnivores worldwide. We highlight the striking increase in extirpation, and the factors influencing such changes, for native carnivores. In this manuscript, we point to the limited number of multi-year surveys to evaluate dynamic processes on long-term persistence of native wildlife populations, as well as the lack of exotic carnivore control programs in threatened ecosystems in many developing nations as factors limiting our ability to effectively conserve biodiversity across the globe.
 Line graph demonstratingthe multi-year trendsin occupancy for A) four native carnivoresand B) two exotic carnivores. Photographic surveyswere conductedfrom 2008 to 2013 at a newly established study site within the Makira Natural Park, Madagascar.

How many feral cats are in Australia?

Legge, S., Murphy, B. P., McGregor, H., Woinarski, J. C. Z., Augusteyn, J., Ballard, G., ... & Edwards, G. (2016). Enumerating a continental-scale threat: How many feral cats are in Australia?. Biological Conservation.

Feral cats (Felis catus) have devastated wildlife globally. In Australia, feral cats are implicated in most recent mammal extinctions and continue to threaten native species. Cat control is a high-profile priority for Australian policy, research and management. To develop the evidence-base to support this priority, we first review information on cat presence/absence on Australian islands and mainland cat-proof exclosures, finding that cats occur across >99.8% of Australia's land area. Next, we collate 91 site-based feral cat density estimates in Australia and examine the influence of environmental and geographic influences on density. We extrapolate from this analysis to estimate that the feral cat population in natural environments fluctuates between 1.4 million (95% confidence interval: 1.0–2.3 million) after continent-wide droughts, to 5.6 million (95% CI: 2.5–11 million) after extensive wet periods. We estimate another 0.7 million feral cats occur in Australia's highly modified environments (urban areas, rubbish dumps, intensive farms). Feral cat densities are higher on small islands than the mainland, but similar inside and outside conservation land. Mainland cats reach highest densities in arid/semi-arid areas after wet periods. Regional variation in cat densities corresponds closely with attrition rates for native mammal fauna. The overall population estimate for Australia's feral cats (in natural and highly modified environments), fluctuating between 2.1 and 6.3 million, is lower than previous estimates, and Australian feral cat densities are lower than reported for North America and Europe. Nevertheless, cats inflict severe impacts on Australian fauna, reflecting the sensitivity of Australia's native species to cats and reinforcing that policy, research and management to reduce their impacts is critical.
The population size of feral cats in natural environments in Australia fluctuates between 1.4 and 5.6 million, depending on rainfall. An additional 0.7 million feral cats live in heavily modified environments like towns and intensive farms. The maps show the model predictions for cat density in natural environments across Australia during dry-average rainfall conditions (on the left) and after extensive rainfall events (on the right). They show that cat density is fairly uniform across the continent during average-dry conditions, but extensive rainfall events cause an increase in feral cat density in the inland of Australia. As predictors, the regression model includes mean annual rainfall, mean annual temperature, tree cover, ruggedness and fox presence/absence. For islands smaller than Tasmania, island area was also included as a predictor of density (small islands have higher cat densities). The dashed lines indicate the Tropic of Capricorn.
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