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Flora and, Australia

Mcdonald P.J.,University of Sydney | Luck G.W.,Charles Sturt University | Dickman C.R.,University of Sydney | Ward S.J.,Flora and Fauna Division | Crowther M.S.,University of Sydney

Many of the world's terrestrial mammal species are imperilled, but recent extinctions and declines have been most severe in Australia. In particular, arid-dwelling marsupials in a critical weight range (35-5500 g) have declined dramatically following European settlement. In the absence of long-term monitoring, documenting these declines or distribution shifts and their causes often relies on occurrence data from multiple sources. Using atlas records, we compared the distributions of all currently extant marsupials in the critical weight range in Australia's arid Northern Territory pre- and post-1975. For taxa with evidence of range contraction, we evaluated alternative hypotheses to explain this contraction (i.e. competition, predation, productivity, climate) using several techniques to improve our confidence in the results. Despite a substantial increase in the number of mammal records across the study region post-1975, the bilby Macrotis lagotis and desert form of the common brushtail possum Trichosurus vulpecula appear to have contracted in distribution by 25 and 40%, respectively. These changes in distribution were best explained by hypotheses of competition and climate-change, respectively. Macrotis lagotis was more likely to occur on land without a history of cattle grazing and with low rabbit densities, while T. vulpecula has contracted to parts of its distribution that experience cooler maximum temperatures over the hottest months of the year. For five other taxa (including the vulnerable black-footed rock-wallaby Petrogale lateralis) we recorded increases in distribution post-1975, probably reflecting increased survey effort rather than actual range expansion. We conclude that models using multiple-source occurrence data can provide key insights into the patterns and drivers of contemporary species' declines, and represent useful tools for conservation. © 2015 The Authors. Source

Canessa S.,University of Melbourne | Canessa S.,UK Institute of Zoology | Converse S.J.,U.S. Geological Survey | West M.,University of Melbourne | And 6 more authors.
Conservation Biology

Ex situ conservation strategies for threatened species often require long-term commitment and financial investment to achieve management objectives. We present a framework that considers the decision to adopt ex situ management for a target species as the end point of several linked decisions. We used a decision tree to intuitively represent the logical sequence of decision making. The first decision is to identify the specific management actions most likely to achieve the fundamental objectives of the recovery plan, with or without the use of ex-situ populations. Once this decision has been made, one decides whether to establish an ex situ population, accounting for the probability of success in the initial phase of the recovery plan, for example, the probability of successful breeding in captivity. Approaching these decisions in the reverse order (attempting to establish an ex situ population before its purpose is clearly defined) can lead to a poor allocation of resources, because it may restrict the range of available decisions in the second stage. We applied our decision framework to the recovery program for the threatened spotted tree frog (Litoria spenceri) of southeastern Australia. Across a range of possible management actions, only those including ex situ management were expected to provide >50% probability of the species' persistence, but these actions cost more than use of in situ alternatives only. The expected benefits of ex situ actions were predicted to be offset by additional uncertainty and stochasticity associated with establishing and maintaining ex situ populations. Naïvely implementing ex situ conservation strategies can lead to inefficient management. Our framework may help managers explicitly evaluate objectives, management options, and the probability of success prior to establishing a captive colony of any given species. © 2016, Society for Conservation Biology. Source

Kurucz N.,U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention | Markey P.,U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention | Draper A.,U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention | Draper A.,Australian National University | And 6 more authors.
Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases

Between October 2012 and October 2013, unprecedented high numbers of Barmah Forest virus (BFV) disease cases were reported in the Northern Territory (NT). An investigation was launched by the NT Department of Health in cooperation with the Department of Primary Industry and Fisheries and the Department of Land Resource Management to investigate possible causes for this phenomenon. The investigation included virus isolations from mosquitoes collected in Darwin urban areas, BFV antibody testing in peri-urban small mammals and a human BFV disease case series investigation of recent cases. No BFV was isolated from the 4641 mosquitoes tested, none of the mammals tested positive for BFV antibodies, and the high BFV disease case numbers did not correlate with the relatively low mosquito vector numbers trapped in 2012-2013. It was estimated that up to 89% of the 79 human cases investigated did not have an acute arboviral illness and therefore had tested falsely positive. An Alere PanBio BFV immunoglobulin M enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay test kit is generally used to test for BFV, with the BFV disease case definition based on immunoglobulin M positives only. Other jurisdictions in Australia also reported high numbers of BFV disease cases, with the majority of the cases suspected to be false positives. Therefore, current testing methods need to be revised to reflect the true numbers of BFV disease cases occurring in Australia and to provide correct diagnoses for patients. © 2016 Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. Source

Stokeld D.,Flora and Fauna Division | Stokeld D.,Charles Darwin University | Frank A.S.K.,University of Tasmania | Hill B.,Flora and Fauna Division | And 10 more authors.
Wildlife Research

Context Feral cats are a major cause of mammal declines and extinctions in Australia. However, cats are elusive and obtaining reliable ecological data is challenging. Although camera traps are increasingly being used to study feral cats, their successful use in northern Australia has been limited. Aims We evaluated the efficacy of camera-trap sampling designs for detecting cats in the tropical savanna of northern Australia. We aimed to develop a camera-trapping method that would yield detection probabilities adequate for precise occupancy estimates. Methods First, we assessed the influence of two micro-habitat placements and three lure types on camera-trap detection rates of feral cats. Second, using multiple camera traps at each site, we examined the relationship between sampling effort and detection probability by using a multi-method occupancy model. Key results We found no significant difference in detection rates of feral cats using a variety of lures and micro-habitat placement. The mean probability of detecting a cat on one camera during one week of sampling was very low (p≤0.15) and had high uncertainty. However, the probability of detecting a cat on at least one of five cameras deployed concurrently on a site was 48% higher (p≤0.22) and had a greater precision. Conclusions The sampling effort required to achieve detection rates adequate to infer occupancy of feral cats by camera trap is considerably higher in northern Australia than has been observed elsewhere in Australia. Adequate detection of feral cats in the tropical savanna of northern Australia will necessitate inclusion of more camera traps and a longer survey duration. Implications Sampling designs using camera traps need to be rigorously trialled and assessed to optimise detection of the target species for different Australian biomes. A standard approach is suggested for detecting feral cats in northern Australian savannas. Source

McDonald P.J.,University of Sydney | Griffiths A.D.,Flora and Fauna Division | Nano C.E.M.,Flora and Fauna Division | Dickman C.R.,University of Sydney | And 2 more authors.
Biological Conservation

The challenges of sampling rare fauna limit efforts to understand and mitigate the factors that restrict their distribution. Camera traps have become a standard technique for sampling large mammals, but their utility for sampling small, rare species remains largely unknown. The central rock-rat (Zyzomys pedunculatus) is critically endangered and restricted to rugged range country in central Australia. Using Z. pedunculatus as a focal species, we sought to evaluate the effectiveness of camera trapping for sampling small mammals in this environment and to better understand the factors driving the occurrence of this species. We installed baited camera traps at 50 sites across 1795. ha of core refuge habitat for Z. pedunculatus. We recorded all six species of small mammals known previously from this area, including the highly detectable Z. pedunculatus at five sites. Occupancy modelling showed that distance to the nearest occupied site was the most important predictor of Z. pedunculatus occurrence, suggesting that this rodent occurs in discrete sub-populations within the matrix of refuge habitat. Fire history and ruggedness may also influence occupancy of Z. pedunculatus at the landscape-scale and could assist in locating additional sub-populations. At the site-scale, occupancy of Z. pedunculatus was high and there was no clear influence of any site-scale variables. Management of Z. pedunculatus will require protection and expansion of known sub-populations. We conclude that camera trapping provided useful and cost-effective insight into the factors limiting rock-rat distribution, and predict that it will become a standard tool for sampling rare small mammals in difficult-to-access environments. © 2015 Elsevier B.V. Source

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