Problem species research

Last updated: Thursday 19 May, 2016

Introduced plants and animals pose one of the greatest threats to many native species and the health of our ecosystems.

  • Introduced plants cause environmental damage by displacing native plants, altering vegetation structure and disrupting natural disturbance regimes (e.g. fire).
  • Introduced and domestic animals such as cats, foxes, livestock and rabbits prey on native species, compete for habitat and resources, and degrade habitat so it becomes unsuitable for many native species.
Cat with prey

Feral cat devours gallah. Photo Jiri Lochman / Lochman Transparencies.

Human-induced changes to landscapes and natural ecosystems have also triggered population increases in some native species in certain areas, such as noisy miners and kangaroos, which now present a threat in some habitats to other native animals, such as woodland birds.

Despite many years of feral animal and weed control in Australia, research is still needed to find more effective means of control for many established and emerging introduced species.

More critically, we need to understand the interactions between species, the effect of other management interventions (e.g. fire) on introduced species, and ecosystem level impacts of introduced species, to determine the best strategies for reducing pressure on the survival of native plants and animals.

This research address questions such as:

  • What are the interactions and trade-offs involved in invasive species control?
  • What are the optimal management strategies? E.g. does the removal of one predator (such as dingo or fox) lead to an increase in lower-order predators (e.g. cats) or other pest animals (e.g. rabbits)?
  • What are the most effective means of control or containment of invasive weeds (e.g. African lovegrass, Siam weed, gorse, buffel grass) or pathogens (e.g. Phytophthora)?
  • What's the most effective means of feral cat control? Are there new methods, approaches and technologies that can be used?

Case study: Restoring resilience in wildlife populations

Eastern Barred Bandicoot

Eastern barred bandicoot at Tasmanian Midlands Partnership, Tas. Photo credit: Tasmanian Land Conservancy

Bush Heritage is an industry partner in an Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage project being led by Profs. Menna Jones and Chris Johnson from the University of Tasmania looking at the interactions between cats and native species in the grassy lowland plains of the Tasmanian Midlands.

This region is the stronghold for several iconic marsupials that are extinct or close to extinction on the Australian mainland, including the Tasmanian (or eastern) bettong, spotted-tailed quoll and eastern barred bandicoot.

The study will focus on how these vulnerable native species forage and behave under different levels of perceived predation risk from cats. Analysis of these risk-sensitive foraging decisions in relation to fine-scale, meso-scale and landscape-scale habitat structure, condition and assessment of gene flow will inform conservation organisations about how to reconnect and restore habitat to better protect native species against predation by feral cats.

Key projects

Siam weed, grader grass and fire – managing multiple threats in tropical woodlands

Bush Heritage-led project evaluating different weed control methods and detailed mapping of weed infestation on Yourka Reserve.

Keystone effects of Australia’s top predators (dingoes, devils and biodiversity)

ARC Linkage project led by Dr Mike Letnic from UNSW examining the role of dingoes in structuring ecosystems and sustaining biodiversity at Cravens Peak Reserve.

Weathering the perfect storm: mitigating the post-fire impacts of invasive predators on small desert vertebrates.

Tim Doherty fits a tracking collar to a cat. Photo Annette Ruzicka.Tim Doherty fits a tracking collar to a cat. Photo Annette Ruzicka.

ARC Discovery project led by Prof Chris Dickman from USyd, examining the role of small stands of trees in providing refuge for small vertebrates from feral predators and testing novel methods of protecting them following wildfire.

Evalution of feral predator control on Charles Darwin Reserve

Collaboration with Earthwatch and Edith Cowan University’s Rob Davis and Tim Doherty to examine feral cat habitat use, impacts on native fauna and the effectiveness of baiting programs.

Restoring resilience in wildlife populations.

ARC Linkage project led by Prof Menna Jones from UTAS to create an animal-centric approach to habitat restoration in the Tasmanian midlands, based on risk-sensitive foraging decisions by individual animals under predation pressure.

Ecology of the feral cat (Felis catus) in coastal heaths and mallee ecosystems of the south coast of Western Australia

Bush Heritage supported PhD candidate, Sarah Comer from UWA is studying the diet, resource use and impacts on native fauna of feral cats in fragmented and intact landscapes in south-west Western Australia.

Investigating the optimal density of large native herbivores for native biodiversity conservation in temperate grassland and grassy woodland communities

Bush Heritage Andyinc Foundation Environmental Scholarship holder, Brett Howland from ANU is completing his work on Nardoo Hills and Scottsdale reserves into macropod grazing and faunal communities.

Ecology of Gambusia at Edgbaston Springs

University of Canberra Honours student, Nathan Clough will examine the breeding biology, diet and habitat use of the invasive fish Gambusia holbrooki, the primary threat to the endangered red-finned blue-eye fish.

Relationship between water ephemerality and animal biodiversity

University of New England PhD candidate, Dana Vickers will be using Naree Station Reserve in her research on how water availability affects animal communities and how this is modified by feral cats.

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