Complex interactions among mammalian carnivores in Australia, and their implications for wildlife management
Mammalian carnivore populations are often intensively managed, either because the carnivore in question is endangered, or because it is viewed as a pest and is subjected to control measures, or both. Most management programmes treat carnivore species in isolation. However, there is a large and emerging body of evidence to demonstrate that populations of different carnivores interact with each other in a variety of complex ways. Thus, the removal or introduction of predators to or from a system can often affect other species in ways that are difficult to predict. Wildlife managers must consider such interactions when planning predator control programmes. Integrated predator control will require a greater understanding of the complex relationships between species.
In many parts of the world, sympatric species of carnivores have coexisted over an evolutionary time scale so that niche differentiation has occurred, and competition is difficult to observe. Australia has experienced numerous introductions during the past 200 years, including those of the red fox (Vulpes vulpes) and the feral cat (Felis catus). These species now exist in sympatry with native mammalian predators, providing ecologists with the opportunity to study their interactions without the confounding effects of coevolution.
Despite an increasing body of observational evidence for complex interactions among native and introduced predators in Australia, few studies have attempted to clarify these relationships experimentally, and the interactions remain largely unacknowledged. A greater understanding of these interactions would provide ecologists and wildlife managers world-wide with the ability to construct robust predictive models of carnivore communities, and to identify their broader effects on ecosystem functioning. We suggest that future research should focus on controlled and replicated predator removal or addition experiments. The dingo (Canis lupus dingo), as a likely keystone species, should be a particular focus of attention.(Received June 15 2004)
(Revised December 9 2004)
(Accepted December 21 2004)
Key Words: carnivore; competition; keystone species; intraguild predation; trophic cascade; mesopredator release; predator management; dingo; red fox; feral cat; quoll.
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