On the right track: placement of camera traps on roads improves detection of predators and shows non-target impacts of feral cat baiting.
Context: To understand the ecological consequences of predator management, reliable and accurate methods are needed to survey and detect predators and the species with which they interact. Recently, poison baits have been developed specifically for lethal and broad-scale control of feral cats in Australia. However, the potential non-target effects of these baits on other predators, including native apex predators (dingoes), and, in turn, cascading effects on lower trophic levels (large herbivores), are poorly understood.Aims: We examined the effect that variation in camera trapping-survey design has on detecting dingoes, feral cats and macropodids, and how different habitat types affect species occurrences. We then examined how a feral cat poison baiting event influences the occupancy of these sympatric species.Methods: We deployed 80 remotely triggered camera traps over the 2410-km2 Matuwa Indigenous Protected Area, in the semiarid rangelands of Western Australia, and used single-season site-occupancy models to calculate detection probabilities and occupancy for our target species before and after baiting.Key results: Cameras placed on roads were -60 times more likely to detect dingoes and feral cats than were off-road cameras, whereas audio lures designed to attract feral cats had only a slight positive effect on detection for all target species. Habitat was a significant factor affecting the occupancy of dingoes and macropodids, but not feral cats, with both species being positively associated with open woodlands. Poison baiting to control feral cats did not significantly reduce their occupancy but did so for dingoes, whereas macropodid occupancy increased following baiting and reduced dingo occupancy.Conclusions: Camera traps on roads greatly increase the detection probabilities for predators, whereas audio lures appear to add little or no value to increasing detection for any of the species we targeted. Poison baiting of an invasive mesopredator appeared to negatively affect a non-target, native apex predator, and, in turn, may have resulted in increased activity of large herbivores.Implications: Management and monitoring of predators must pay careful attention to survey design, and lethal control of invasive mesopredators should be approached cautiously so as to avoid potential unintended negative ecological consequences (apex-predator suppression and herbivore release).