Management of invasive mesopredators in the flinders ranges, South Australia: effectiveness and implications.
Context: Significant resources have been devoted to the control of introduced mesopredators in Australia. However, the control or removal of one pest species, such as, for example, the red fox (Vulpes vulpes), may inadvertently benefit other invasive species, namely feral cats (Felis catus) and rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus), potentially jeopardising native-species recovery. Aims: To (1) investigate the impact of a large-scale, long-term fox-baiting program on the abundance of foxes, feral cats and introduced and native prey species in the Flinders Ranges, South Australia, and (2) determine the effectiveness of a short time period of cat removal in immediately reducing feral cat abundance where foxes are absent. Methods: We conducted an initial camera-trap survey in fox-baited and unbaited sites in the Flinders Ranges, to quantify the impact of fox baiting on the relative abundance of foxes, feral cats and their prey. We then conducted a secondary survey in sites where foxes were absent, following an intensive, but short, time period of cat removal, in which 40 cats were shot and killed. Key results: No foxes were detected within baited sites, but were frequently detected in unbaited sites. We found a corresponding and significant increase in several native prey species in fox-baited sites where foxes were absent. Feral cats and rabbits were also more frequently detected within baited sites, but fox baiting did not singularly predict the abundance of either species. Rather, feral cats were less abundant in open habitat where foxes were present (unbaited), and rabbits were more abundant within one predominantly open-habitat site, where foxes were absent (fox-baited). We found no effect of short-term cat removal in reducing the local abundance of feral cats. In both camera-trap surveys, feral cat detections were positively associated with rabbits. Conclusions: Long-term fox baiting was effective in fox removal and was associated with a greater abundance of native and introduced prey species in the Flinders Ranges. To continue to recover and conserve regional biodiversity, effective cat control is required. Implications: Our study showed fox removal has likely resulted in the local release of rabbits and an associated increase in cats. Because feral cat abundance seemingly fluctuated with rabbits, we suggest rabbit control may provide an alternative and more effective means to reduce local feral cat populations than short-term removal programs.