Feral cats and foxes menace Australian mammals

| December 3, 2018

The twelve Australian mammal species at greatest risk of succumbing to predation by cats and foxes have been identified in new research.

Threatened Species Recovery Hub researchers including the University of Queensland’s Associate Professor Sarah Legge have revealed that potoroos, bandicoots, bettongs and native rodents are at the top of the list.

Dr Sarah Legge, from UQ’s School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, said Australia had the highest rate of mammal extinction in the world over the past 230 years, losing one to two species a decade since the 1850s.

“Predation by feral cats and foxes has played a leading role in at least 25 mammal extinctions,” she said.

Research leader Dr Jim Radford, from La Trobe University, and a team of more than 20 scientists and conservation managers have categorised every Australian land mammal for susceptibility to predation by feral cats and red foxes.

“Knowing which species are most at risk will help us prioritise where cat and fox control is most needed,” Dr Radford said.

“It will also help conservation managers decide which species need the highest level of protection from introduced predators, which currently means being moved to islands or fenced conservation areas where they are out of reach of introduced predators.

“We found that 63 – or about one in three – surviving mammal species are highly susceptible to predation by cats and foxes.

The 12 species most susceptible to foxes and feral cats, with their Australian conservation status in brackets, are:

•             Gilbert’s potoroo Potorous gilbertii (critically endangered)

•             Central rock-rat Zyzomys pedunculatus (critically endangered)

•             Eastern quoll Dasyurus viverrinus (endangered)

•             Western barred bandicoot Perameles bougainville (endangered)

•             Eastern barred bandicoot Perameles gunnii (endangered on mainland)

•             Rufous hare-wallaby or mala Lagorchestes hirsutus (endangered on mainland)

•             Banded hare-wallaby Lagostrophus fasciatus (vulnerable)

•             Djoongari or Shark Bay mouse Pseudomys fieldi (vulnerable)

•             Boodie or burrowing bettong Bettongia lesueur (vulnerable)

•             Greater stick-nest rat Leporillus conditor (vulnerable)

•             Tasmanian pademelon Thylogale billardierii (Surviving only in Tasmania)

•             Eastern bettong Bettongia gaimardi (Surviving only in Tasmania)

The study is published in Wildlife Research.

“Foxes and cats have been a primary factor in the majority of these extinctions. Our study shows that introduced predators remain a significant threat to numerous mammals, many of which are clinging to survival by a thread,” Dr Radford said.

Australia’s Threatened Species Commissioner Dr Sally Box said the research would support improved conservation of our most vulnerable mammals.

“Under the Australian Government’s Threatened Species Strategy, there are ambitious targets to tackle the impact of feral cats and we are working with partners from across the country to address this threat.  This research will help us to better target our efforts for improved conservation outcomes,” she said.

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