Trends in the numbers of red kangaroos and emus on either side of the South Australian dingo fence: evidence for predator regulation?

Most of Australia’s sheep rangelands are enclosed by a dingo-proof fence. Within these rangelands, where dingoes (Canis familiaris) are rare, red kangaroos (Macropus rufus) are considered to be food limited because their numbers respond to fluctuations in pasture biomass that are driven by highly variable rainfall. Outside this region, where dingoes are common, kangaroo densities are generally substantially lower, suggesting that dingoes are an important limiting factor. However, it is unclear whether dingoes can regulate kangaroo populations. In this study, red kangaroo and emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae) numbers were monitored for varying periods during 1978–92 by aerial survey on both sides of the dingo fence in three areas in the north of the South Australian pastoral zone. Densities of red kangaroos and emus were lower outside the fence, although the disparity varied between areas and over time. The similarity in the environments on both sides of the fence and the marked step in kangaroo density at the fence are consistent with dingoes strongly limiting these prey populations. In the north-east of the pastoral zone, where kangaroo and emu densities are greatest, the contrast in density across the fence was most pronounced. Furthermore, the trends in density over time differed across the fence. Outside the fence, red kangaroos and emus remained at low densities following drought as dingo numbers increased. Inside the fence, red kangaroo and emu populations showed a ‘typical’ post-drought recovery. The data therefore suggest that, in some situations, dingoes may not simply limit red kangaroo and emu populations, but also regulate them. For this to occur, predation rate would need to be density dependent at low prey densities. The availability of alternative prey, and the reduction in the numbers of all prey during drought may provide the mechanism.

Author Pople, A. R., Grigg, G. C., Cairns, S. C., Beard, L. A. and Alexander, P.
Year 2000
Secondary title Wildlife Research
Volume 27
Number 3
Pages 269-276
Region SA