Evaluation of lethal control of introduced sugar gliders as a tool to relieve bird nest predation

Date: 15, Dec, 2020
Author(s):   Stojanovic, D. Owens, G., Heinsohn, R.
Publisher: Pacific Conservation Biology

Lethal control of invasive mammalian predators can be controversial and is rarely a ‘silver bullet’ for conservation problems. Evaluating the efficacy of lethal control is important for demonstrating the benefits to threatened species are real and detecting unexpected perverse outcomes. We implemented a pilot study to evaluate if lethal control of introduced sugar gliders Petaurus breviceps can reduce the rate of nest predation on Tasmanian hollow nesting birds including swift parrots (Lathamus discolor). Using a before-after-control-impact design, we implemented a lethal control treatment whereby we attempted to remove sugar gliders from three treatment sites. In each time period across sites we monitored quail eggs in nest boxes to record predation, and used cameras to detect sugar gliders. We caught nine sugar gliders over three treatment sites. The model best supported by the data indicated an effect of site × time period on both egg survival and the rate of glider detection on cameras. There was no support for an effect of treatment on our data. We also recorded predation of a real swift parrot nest by sugar gliders at a treatment site where we recorded no predation of quail eggs. Our pilot study shows that at small scales, intensive lethal control of gliders yields low capture rates and no discernible effect on the metrics we measured. We conclude that alternative approaches to controlling the impact of sugar gliders, such as habitat protection, are critical in this study system before lethal control is widely implemented as a management tool.