Degrees of population-level susceptibility of Australian terrestrial non-volant mammal species to predation by the introduced red fox Vulpes vulpes and feral cat Felis catus

Date: 27, Mar, 2019
Author(s):   James Q. Radford, John C. Z. Woinarski, Sarah Legge, Marcus Baseler, Joss Bentley, Andrew A. Burbidge, Michael Bode, Peter Copley, Nicholas Dexter, Chris R. Dickman, Graeme Gillespie, Brydie Hill, Chris N. Johnson,John Kanowski, Peter Latch, Mike Letnic, Adrian Manning, Peter Menkhorst, Nicola Mitchell, Keith Morris, Katherine Moseby, Manda Page, Jeremy Ringma,
Publisher: Wildlife Research

Context: Over the last 230 years, the Australian terrestrial mammal fauna has suffered a very high rate of decline and extinction relative to other continents. Predation by the introduced red fox (Vulpes vulpes) and feral cat (Felis catus) is implicated in many of these extinctions, and in the ongoing decline of many extant species.

Aims: To assess the degree to which Australian terrestrial non-volant mammal species are susceptible at the population level to predation by the red fox and feral cat, and to allocate each species to a category of predator susceptibility.

Methods: We collated the available evidence and complemented this with expert opinion to categorise each Australian terrestrial non-volant mammal species (extinct and extant) into one of four classes of population-level susceptibility to introduced predators (i.e. ‘extreme’, ‘high’, ‘low’ or ‘not susceptible’). We then compared predator susceptibility with conservation status, body size and extent of arboreality; and assessed changes in the occurrence of species in different predator-susceptibility categories between 1788 and 2017.

Key results: Of 246 Australian terrestrial non-volant mammal species (including extinct species), we conclude that 37 species are (or were) extremely predator-susceptible; 52 species are highly predator-susceptible; 112 species are of low susceptibility; and 42 species are not susceptible to predators. Confidence in assigning species to predator-susceptibility categories was strongest for extant threatened mammal species and for extremely predator-susceptible species. Extinct and threatened mammal species are more likely to be predator-susceptible than Least Concern species; arboreal species are less predator-susceptible than ground-dwelling species; and medium-sized species (35 g–3.5 kg) are more predator-susceptible than smaller or larger species.

Conclusions: The effective control of foxes and cats over large areas is likely to assist the population-level recovery of ~63 species – the number of extant species with extreme or high predator susceptibility – which represents ~29% of the extant Australian terrestrial non-volant mammal fauna.

Implications: Categorisation of predator susceptibility is an important tool for conservation management, because the persistence of species with extreme susceptibility will require intensive management (e.g. predator-proof exclosures or predator-free islands), whereas species of lower predator susceptibility can be managed through effective landscape-level suppression of introduced predators.