The impact of fox control on the relative abundance of forest mammals in East Gippsland, Victoria

Predation by European red foxes is believed to be the major cause of the extinction and decline of a large number of native medium-sized terrestrial mammals in Australia. We examined the impact of poisoning of foxes on the relative abundance of a group of medium-sized mammals in an experiment conducted in three large forest blocks in south-eastern Australia. The blocks consisted of paired sites, as follows: one site where poison baiting was used to control foxes (treatment site) and one where foxes were not controlled (non-treatment site). At all six sites, the population responses of a range of mammals were measured, and compared between treatment and non-treatment sites. The relative fox abundance, as indexed by bait-take, declined during the course of the study at treatment sites and to a lesser extent at non-treatment sites. The decline in bait-take at non-treatment sites was most likely due to treatment sites acting as ecological traps, so that reduced intra-specific competition attracted foxes from non-treatment to treatment sites, where they were subsequently poisoned. There was a significant treatment effect for the abundances of total mammals, long-nosed potoroos, southern brown bandicoots and common brushtail possums, with higher abundances at treatment sites than at non-treatment sites. Common ringtail possums increased in abundance during the course of the study, with no significant difference between treatment and non-treatment sites. There was no significant effect of time or treatment on the abundance of long-nosed bandicoots. The increase in the abundance of native mammals at treatment sites was most likely due to a lower predation pressure by foxes brought about by fox control, and the smaller increase in abundance in non-treatment blocks was likely due to the ecological-trap effect because of fox baiting at treatment sites. The present study demonstrated that broad-scale fox control can lead to increases in the abundance of native mammals in forested habitats, without recourse to aerial baiting or fences. The study also demonstrated that the influence of fox control on the fox abundance can extend well beyond the perimeter of the area baited.

Author Nick Dexter and Andy Murray
Date 15/04/2009
Year 2009
Secondary title Wildlife Research
Volume 36
Number 3
Institution Department of Sustainability and Environment
Pages 252?261
Notes Notes
ISBN/ISSN DOI: 10.1071/WR08135
Control method Baiting