Influence of fragmentation and disturbance on the potential impact of feral predators on native fauna in Australian forest ecosystems
S. A. May and T. W. Norton
23(4) 387 - 400
The current knowledge is reviewed of the diet and predator–prey relationships of the feral cat (Felis catus), fox (Vulpes vulpes) and dingo (Canis familiaris dingo) (including wild dogs). The effect of forest fragmentation by roads on the use of native forest ecosystems by these species and the significance of this for native fauna is considered. The cat, fox and dingo are significant predators in Australia that interact with native fauna in various ways, including predation, competition for resources, and transmission of disease. On the basis of current knowledge, it is clear that the nature and impact of predation by the cat, fox and dingo on native fauna are primarily determined by prey availability, although there are exceptions to this rule. Generally, dingoes prey upon large to medium-sized prey species (e.g. wallabies, common wombats, and possums), foxes prey upon medium-sized to small prey (e.g. possums and rats) and consume a significant component of scavenged material and vegetation, while cats also prey upon medium-sized to small prey, but may have a greater proportion of reptiles and birds in their diet. The cat is generally considered to be an opportunistic predator and to have contributed to the demise of a number of mammals. The fox is considered more of a threat to small native mammals and it has been asserted that all species of mammals that fall within the critical weight range (CWR) of 120–5000 g are at risk of local extinction when the fox is present. The severity of the impact of the dingo upon the native fauna is considered to be minimal, at least in comparison with the impact that the cat and fox can have on populations. The dingo is not considered a threat to CWR mammals in undisturbed environments. The fox, feral cat and dingo are all considered to have the ability to selectivity prey upon species and, to some extent, individual sexes and age-classes of a number of larger prey species.
Although many of Australia's forested areas are relatively heavily fragmented by roads, there are no published studies specifically investigating the use of roads by feral predators. Information on the distribution and abundance of foxes, cats and dingoes in these ecosystems, their ecology and their impact on native fauna is particularly limited. Further, the extent to which roads influence the distribution and abundance of these species and the consequences of these for native fauna are poorly known. One of the most important research needs is to establish the relative impact that exotic predators may have on native fauna under varying degrees of road construction within native forests. For example, are areas with and without roads in forests used differently by exotic predators and what is the significance of this in terms of the potential impact on fauna? The extent to which feral predators forage away from roads needs further investigation, as does the rates of predation within edges, because this may have several consequences for the design, location and size of retained strips and wildlife corridors as well as restoration programmes. Further observations on regional differences influencing predator–prey interactions are required, as is research on the potential impacts on native fauna resulting from prey selection in forests subjected to various degrees of fragmentation and modification.
Full text doi:10.1071/WR9960387
© CSIRO 1996