Short-term pain before long-term gain? Suppression of invasive primary prey temporarily increases predation on native lizards.
The control of invasive species can have cascading and at times undesirable effects on the wider ecological community. Effective management requires that the ecosystem-wide effects of removing invasive species be understood. We investigated the effects of large-scale rabbit control on the abundance (numerical response) and diet (functional response) of an invasive predator (ferret, Mustela putorius furo) that preys on rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus), as well as the subsequent predation pressure experienced by alternative prey species (total response), in New Zealand's dryland habitats. Following rabbit control, ferret densities declined but surviving ferrets increased their per capita consumption of lizards and invertebrates, two key native prey groups. Rabbit control increased predation pressure on lizards, but reduced it on invertebrates. While rabbit control can negatively impact some groups of alternative prey up to 18 months post-control, it probably benefits them in the longer term because prey-switching by ferrets tended to reduce with time, and regeneration of vegetation previously over-grazed by rabbits is likely to reduce exposure of native prey to predation. While confirming these benefits will require longer-term monitoring, our results support management actions that limit short-term fluctuations in rabbit abundance and maintain them at low abundance.