Science

Outsmarting the Feral Cat: How ecological and behavioural research can reduce predation impacts on threatened Australian mammals

Date: 

Friday, 4 August, 2017 -
15:00 to 16:00

Where: 

Mathews Theatre D, Mathews Building, UNSW Kensington Campus

Hosts: 

School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences

Type of event: 

Seminar

Audience / Guests: 

Public / All

Predation is a significant contributor to reintroduction failure, particularly in countries where exotic predators are present including Australia and New Zealand. In these countries, the majority of reintroductions fail due to predation by the introduced European fox and feral cat. The high predation impact is attributed, at least in part, to prey naivety where native species have evolved in isolation from eutherian mammalian predators. To date, methods to address predation in reintroduction programs have included exclusion or control of introduced predators, predator training of captive-bred individuals and acclimatization in release pens at the release site. These methods have produced mixed but often poor results, stimulating research into how we can use the ecological and behavioural attributes of cats to reduce their predation impacts. Katherine will present four examples of how this research is leading to novel methods of protecting our threatened mammal species. Examples are presented from a number of reintroduction programs in Australia including the burrowing bettong and western quoll.

Recent research suggests individual predators may have disproportionate impacts on reintroduced populations through specialization and this can be addressed using toxic implants placed under the skin of reintroduced prey. These Population Protecting Implants may reduce the need for widespread, indiscriminate predator control and increase post release survival of the population. Another method, In situ predator training, involves releasing wild threatened prey into areas with low and controlled densities of introduced predators to stimulate learning and accelerate natural selection. Results suggest a significant improvement in anti-predator behavior of reintroduced populations. A third method that may reduce predation impacts is careful selection of source individuals through an understanding of differential survival based on physical, behavioral or release site traits.  Finally, advances in species-specific predator control have also occurred including the development of a cat grooming trap “Felixer” that takes advantage of a cat’s compulsory grooming behaviour. Results highlight the importance of conducting ecological research on pest species and the significant opportunities that reintroduction programs provide for hypothesis testing.

Biography: 

Katherine Moseby has lived and worked in Australia’s deserts for more than 25 years and is passionate about conserving Australia’s arid fauna. Katherine has a PhD in reintroduction biology from the University of Adelaide and is currently a Research Fellow at the UNSW Sydney. She is primarily interested in improving the plight of threatened species through conducting research and then directly applying the learnings to conservation management. Katherine has conducted research on a range of threatened species including arid species such as bilbies, quolls, bandicoots, dunnarts, ampurtas, bettongs, numbats, malleefowl, kowaris, hopping mice and stick-nest rats. Research interests include developing novel ways to facilitate co-existence of native species and introduced predators, understanding the role of threatened species in the ecosystem and improving reintroduction success of native fauna. Katherine lives with her partner and three children on their 26,000 ha private nature reserve on the Eyre Peninsula and has co-founded three on-ground conservation initiatives, Arid Recovery, Tetepare Island and Middleback Alliance.