Robert Wicks Pest Animal Research Center

Toowoomba, Australia

Robert Wicks Pest Animal Research Center

Toowoomba, Australia
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Allen L.,Robert Wicks Pest Animal Research Center | Goullet M.,FeralsOut
Rangeland Journal | Year: 2012

Dingoes and other wild dogs (Canis lupus dingo and hybrids) are generalist predators that consume a wide variety of different prey species within their range. Little is known, however, of the diets of dingoes in north-eastern Australia where the potential for impacts by dingoes exists. Recently new information has been provided on the diets of dingoes from several sites in Queensland, Australia, significantly adding to the body of published knowledge on ecosystems within this region. Further information on the diet of dingoes in north-eastern Australia is added from 1460 scats collected from five sites, representing tropical savannahs, tropical offshore islands (and a matched mainland area), dry sclerophyll forests and peri-urban areas on the fringe of Townsville. Macropods, possums and bandicoots were found to be common prey for dingoes in these areas. Evidence suggested that the frequency of prey remains in scats can be an unreliable indicator of predation risk to potential prey and it was found that novel and unexpected prey species appear in dingo diets as preferred prey become unavailable. The results support the generalisation that dingoes prefer medium- to large-sized native prey species when available but also highlight the capacity for dingoes to exploit populations of both large and small prey species that might not initially be considered at risk from predation based solely on data on scats. © Australian Rangeland Society 2012.

Elsworth P.G.,University of Canberra | Elsworth P.G.,Robert Wicks Pest Animal Research Center | Kovaliski J.,Natural Resources Management Biosecurity Unit | Cooke B.D.,University of Canberra
Epidemiology and Infection | Year: 2012

Rabbit haemorrhagic disease is a major tool for the management of introduced, wild rabbits in Australia. However, new evidence suggests that rabbits may be developing resistance to the disease. Rabbits sourced from wild populations in central and southeastern Australia, and domestic rabbits for comparison, were experimentally challenged with a low 60 ID50 oral dose of commercially available Czech CAPM 351 virus - the original strain released in Australia. Levels of resistance to infection were generally higher than for unselected domestic rabbits and also differed (0-73% infection rates) between wild populations. Resistance was lower in populations from cooler, wetter regions and also low in arid regions with the highest resistance seen within zones of moderate rainfall. These findings suggest the external influences of non-pathogenic calicivirus in cooler, wetter areas and poor recruitment in arid populations may influence the development rate of resistance in Australia. © Copyright Cambridge University Press 2012.

Saunders G.R.,University of Canberra | Saunders G.R.,Australian Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries | Gentle M.N.,Robert Wicks Pest Animal Research Center | Dickman C.R.,University of Sydney
Mammal Review | Year: 2010

The successful introduction of the red fox Vulpes vulpes into Australia in the 1870s has had dramatic and deleterious impacts on both native fauna and agricultural production. Historical accounts detail how the arrival of foxes in many areas coincided with the local demise of native fauna. Recent analyses suggest that native fauna can be successfully reintroduced to their former ranges only if foxes have been controlled, and several replicated removal experiments have confirmed that foxes are the major agents of extirpation of native fauna. Predation is the primary cause of losses, but competition and transmission of disease may be important for some species. In agricultural landscapes, fox predation on lambs can cause losses of 1-30%; variation is due to flock size, health and management, as well as differences in the timing and duration of lambing and the density of foxes. Fox control measures include trapping, shooting, den fumigation and exclusion fencing; baiting using the toxin 1080 is the most commonly employed method. Depending on the baiting strategy, habitat and area covered, baiting can reduce fox activity by 50-97%. We review patterns of baiting in a large sheep-grazing region in central New South Wales, and propose guidelines to increase landholder awareness of baiting strategies, to concentrate and coordinate bait use, and to maximize the cost-effectiveness of baiting programs. The variable reduction in fox density within the baited area, together with the ability of the fox to recolonize rapidly, suggest that current baiting practices in eastern Australia are often ineffective, and that reforms are required. These might include increasing landholder awareness and involvement in group control programs, and the use of more efficient broadscale techniques, such as aerial baiting. © 2010 The Authors. Journal compilation © 2010 Mammal Society.

Allen L.R.,Robert Wicks Pest Animal Research Center
Animal Production Science | Year: 2014

Wild dogs (Canis lupus dingo and hybrids) are routinely controlled to protect beef cattle from predation yet beef producers are sometimes ambivalent as to whether wild dogs are a significant problem or not. This paper reports the loss of calves between birth and weaning in pregnancy-tested herds located on two beef cattle properties in south-central and far north Queensland for up to 4 consecutive years. Comparisons of lactation failures (identified when dams that previously tested pregnant were found non-lactating at weaning) were made between adjoining test herds grazed in places with or without annual (or twice annual) wild dog poison baiting programs. No correlation between wild dog relative abundance and lactation failures was apparent. Calf loss was frequently higher (three in 7 site-years, 11-32%) in baited areas than in non-baited areas (9% in 1 of 7 site-years). Predation loss of calves (in either area) only occurred in seasons of below-average rainfall, but was not related to herd nutrition. These data suggest that controlling wild dogs to protect calves on extensive beef cattle enterprises is unnecessary in most years because wild dogs do not routinely prey on calves. In those seasons when wild dog predation might occur, baiting can be counter-productive. Baiting appears to produce perturbations that change the way surviving or re-colonising wild dog populations select and handle prey and/or how they interact with livestock.© 2014 CSIRO.

Gentle M.,Robert Wicks Pest Animal Research Center | Pople A.,Invasive Plant and Animal Science
Wildlife Research | Year: 2013

Context The feral pig (Sus scrofa) is a widespread pest species in Australia and its populations are commonly controlled to reduce damage to agriculture and the environment. Feral pigs are also a resource and harvested for commercial export as game meat. Although many other control techniques are used, commercial harvesting of feral pigs is often encouraged by land managers, because it carries little or no cost and is widely perceived to control populations. Aims To use feral-pig harvesting records, density data and simple harvest models to examine the effectiveness of commercial harvesting to reduce feral-pig populations. Methods The present study examined commercial harvest off-take on six sites (246-657km2) in southern Queensland, and 20 large blocks (∼2-6000km2) throughout Queensland. The harvest off-take for each site was divided by monthly or average annual population size, determined by aerial survey, to calculate monthly and annual harvest rates. A simple harvest model assuming logistic population growth was used to determine the likely effectiveness of harvesting. Key results Commercial harvest rates were generally low (<∼20%) and are likely to provide only modest reductions in population size. Additionally, harvest rates capable of substantial reductions (>50%) in long-term population size were isolated occurrences and not maintained across sites and years. High harvest rates were observed only at low densities. Although these harvest rates may be sufficiently high to hold populations at low densities, the population is likely to escape this entrapment following a flush in food supply or a reduction in harvest effort. Implications Our results demonstrated that, at current harvest rates, commercial harvesting is ineffective for the landscape-scale control of feral-pig populations. Unless harvest rates can be significantly increased, commercial harvesting should be used as a supplement to, rather than as a substitute for, other damage-control techniques. © CSIRO 2013.

Allen B.L.,University of Queensland | Engeman R.M.,National Wildlife Research Center | Allen L.R.,Robert Wicks Pest Animal Research Center
Current Zoology | Year: 2011

There is growing interest in the role that apex predators play in shaping terrestrial ecosystems and maintaining trophic cascades. In line with the mesopredator release hypothesis, Australian dingoes (Canis lupus dingo and hybrids) are assumed by many to regulate the abundance of invasive mesopredators, such as red foxes Vulpes vulpes and feral cats Felis catus, thereby providing indirect benefits to various threatened vertebrates. Several recent papers have claimed to provide evidence for the biodiversity benefits of dingoes in this way. Nevertheless, in this paper we highlight several critical weaknesses in the methodological approaches used in many of these reports, including lack of consideration for seasonal and habitat differences in activity, the complication of simple track-based indices by incorporating difficult-to-meet assumptions, and a reduction in sensitivity for assessing populations by using binary measures rather than potentially continuous measures. Of the 20 studies reviewed, 15 of them (75%) contained serious methodological flaws, which may partly explain the inconclusive nature of the literature investigating interactions between invasive Australian predators. We therefore assert that most of the "growing body of evidence" for mesopredator release is merely an inconclusive growing body of literature only. We encourage those interested in studying the ecological roles of dingoes relative to invasive mesopredators and native prey species to account for the factors we identify, and caution the value of studies that have not done so. © 2011 Current Zoology.

Allen L.R.,Robert Wicks Pest Animal Research Center
Ecological Management and Restoration | Year: 2015

Lethal control of wild dogs - that is Dingo (Canis lupus dingo) and Dingo/Dog (Canis lupus familiaris) hybrids - to reduce livestock predation in Australian rangelands is claimed to cause continental-scale impacts on biodiversity. Although top predator populations may recover numerically after baiting, they are predicted to be functionally different and incapable of fulfilling critical ecological roles. This study reports the impact of baiting programmes on wild dog abundance, age structures and the prey of wild dogs during large-scale manipulative experiments. Wild dog relative abundance almost always decreased after baiting, but reductions were variable and short-lived unless the prior baiting programme was particularly effective or there were follow-up baiting programmes within a few months. However, age structures of wild dogs in baited and nil-treatment areas were demonstrably different, and prey populations did diverge relative to nil-treatment areas. Re-analysed observations of wild dogs preying on kangaroos from a separate study show that successful chases that result in attacks of kangaroos by wild dogs occurred when mean wild dog ages were higher and mean group size was larger. It is likely that the impact of lethal control on wild dog numbers, group sizes and age structures compromise their ability to handle large difficult-to-catch prey. Under certain circumstances, these changes sometimes lead to increased calf loss (Bos indicus/B. taurus genotypes) and kangaroo numbers. Rangeland beef producers could consider controlling wild dogs in high-risk periods when predation is more likely and avoid baiting at other times. © 2015 Ecological Society of Australia and Wiley Publishing Asia Pty Ltd.

Allen B.L.,University of Queensland | Allen B.L.,Robert Wicks Pest Animal Research Center | Leung L.K.-P.,University of Queensland
PLoS ONE | Year: 2014

Top-predators contribute to ecosystem resilience, yet individuals or populations are often subject to lethal control to protect livestock, managed game or humans from predation. Such management actions sometimes attract concern that lethal control might affect top-predator function in ways ultimately detrimental to biodiversity conservation. The primary function of a predator is predation, which is often investigated by assessing their diet. We therefore use data on prey remains found in 4,298 Australian dingo scats systematically collected from three arid sites over a four year period to experimentally assess the effects of repeated broad-scale poison-baiting programs on dingo diet. Indices of dingo dietary diversity and similarity were either identical or near-identical in baited and adjacent unbaited treatment areas in each case, demonstrating no control-induced change to dingo diets. Associated studies on dingoes' movement behaviour and interactions with sympatric mesopredators were similarly unaffected by poison-baiting. These results indicate that mid-sized top-predators with flexible and generalist diets (such as dingoes) may be resilient to ongoing and moderate levels of population control without substantial alteration of their diets and other related aspects of their ecological function. © 2014 Allen, Leung.

Allen B.L.,University of Queensland | Allen B.L.,Robert Wicks Pest Animal Research Center | Allen L.R.,Robert Wicks Pest Animal Research Center | Engeman R.M.,U.S. Department of Agriculture | Leung L.K.-P.,University of Queensland
Frontiers in Zoology | Year: 2013

Introduction: Terrestrial top-predators are expected to regulate and stabilise food webs through their consumptive and non-consumptive effects on sympatric mesopredators and prey. The lethal control of top-predators has therefore been predicted to inhibit top-predator function, generate the release of mesopredators and indirectly harm native fauna through trophic cascade effects. Understanding the outcomes of lethal control on interactions within terrestrial predator guilds is important for zoologists, conservation biologists and wildlife managers. However, few studies have the capacity to test these predictions experimentally, and no such studies have previously been conducted on the eclectic suite of native and exotic, mammalian and reptilian taxa we simultaneously assess. We conducted a series of landscape-scale, multi-year, manipulative experiments at nine sites spanning five ecosystem types across the Australian continental rangelands to investigate the responses of mesopredators (red foxes, feral cats and goannas) to contemporary poison-baiting programs intended to control top-predators (dingoes) for livestock protection.Result: Short-term behavioural releases of mesopredators were not apparent, and in almost all cases, the three mesopredators we assessed were in similar or greater abundance in unbaited areas relative to baited areas, with mesopredator abundance trends typically either uncorrelated or positively correlated with top-predator abundance trends over time. The exotic mammals and native reptile we assessed responded similarly (poorly) to top-predator population manipulation. This is because poison baits were taken by multiple target and non-target predators and top-predator populations quickly recovered to pre-control levels, thus reducing the overall impact of baiting on top-predators and averting a trophic cascade.Conclusions: These results are in accord with other predator manipulation experiments conducted worldwide, and suggest that Australian populations of native prey fauna at lower trophic levels are unlikely to be negatively affected by contemporary dingo control practices through the release of mesopredators. We conclude that contemporary lethal control practices used on some top-predator populations do not produce the conditions required to generate positive responses from mesopredators. Functional relationships between sympatric terrestrial predators may not be altered by exposure to spatially and temporally sporadic application of non-selective lethal control. © 2013 Allen et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.

Allen B.L.,University of Queensland | Fleming P.J.S.,Australian Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries | Allen L.R.,Robert Wicks Pest Animal Research Center | Engeman R.M.,U.S. Department of Agriculture | And 2 more authors.
Biological Conservation | Year: 2013

Top-predators have been reported to have an important role in structuring food webs and maintaining ecological processes for the benefit of biodiversity at lower trophic levels. This is thought to be achieved through their suppressive effects on sympatric mesopredators and prey. Great scientific and public interest surrounds the potential use of top-predators as biodiversity conservation tools, and it can often be difficult to separate what we think we know and what we really know about their ecological utility. Not all the claims made about the ecological roles of top-predators can be substantiated by current evidence. We review the methodology underpinning empirical data on the ecological roles of Australian dingoes (Canis lupus dingo and hybrids) to provide a comprehensive and objective benchmark for knowledge of the ecological roles of Australia's largest terrestrial predator. From a wide variety of methodological flaws, sampling bias, and experimental design constraints inherent to 38 of the 40 field studies we assessed, we demonstrate that there is presently unreliable and inconclusive evidence for dingoes' role as a biodiversity regulator. We also discuss the widespread (both taxonomically and geographically) and direct negative effects of dingoes to native fauna, and the few robust studies investigating their positive roles. In light of the highly variable and context-specific impacts of dingoes on faunal biodiversity and the inconclusive state of the literature, we strongly caution against the positive management of dingoes in the absence of a supporting evidence-base for such action. © 2012 Elsevier Ltd.

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