The impact of a fox‐ and cat‐free safe haven on the bird fauna of remnant vegetation in southwestern Australia

Date: 14, Dec, 2019
Author(s):   Smith, M.J., Ruykys, L., Palmer, B., Palmer, N., Volck, G., Thomasz, A., Riessen, N.
Publisher: Restoration Ecology

Introduced predators are a serious threat to Australian vertebrates. However, the consequences of predation for an area's avifauna have rarely been quantified. We took advantage of the establishment of a 7,832 ha fox‐ and cat‐free safe haven at Mt Gibson, in Western Australia, to assess the consequences of excluding introduced mammal predators on the bird fauna. Bird surveys were conducted over 6 years, before and after the establishment of the introduced predator‐free safe haven. After 3 years, half the sites were enclosed by the fence that excluded introduced predators, while the remainder of sites remained outside the fence and were exposed to fox and cat activity. The sites were stratified by four major vegetation types. A total of 91 bird species were variously detectable with the survey approach, but were typically more detectable during morning surveys. Site occupancy varied considerably among species, but overall, occupancy by all species was most likely to be either not impacted or positively impacted by the safe haven. The most notable change was that avifaunal richness appeared to increase in woodland and shrubland habitats within, as compared to outside, the safe haven. We conclude that: (1) the safe haven had an overall positive impact on bird occupancy; and (2) there were no consistent trends with respect to the kinds of species whose occupancy was positively impacted, beyond them all being small‐ to medium‐sized birds and mostly insectivorous. However, these conclusions must be tempered by the poor detection probability of many species.