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Arid Recovery – A comparison of reptile and small mammal populations inside and outside a large rabbit, cat and fox-proof exclosure in arid South Australia

Authors


*Present address: Arid Recovery, P.O. Box 150, Roxby Downs, South Australia 5725, Australia (Email: Katherine.moseby@bhpbilliton.com)

Abstract

Australian arid zone mammal species within the Critical Weight Range (CWR) of 35 g–5.5 kg have suffered disproportionately in the global epidemic of contemporary faunal extinctions. CWR extinctions have been attributed largely to the effects of introduced or invasive mammals; however, the impact of these threatening processes on smaller mammals and reptiles is less clear. The change in small mammal and reptile assemblages after the removal of rabbits, cats and foxes was studied over a 6-year period in a landscape-scale exclosure in the Australian arid zone. Rodents, particularly Notomys alexis and Pseudomys bolami, increased to 15 times higher inside the feral-proof Arid Recovery Reserve compared with outside sites, where rabbits, cats and foxes were still present. Predation by cats was thought to exert the greatest influence on rodent numbers owing to the maintenance of the disparity in rodent responses through dry years and the differences in dietary preferences between rabbits and P. bolami. The presence of introduced Mus domesticus or medium-sized re-introduced mammal species did not significantly affect resident small mammal or reptile abundance. Abundance of most dasyurids and small lizards did not change significantly after the removal of feral animals although reductions in gecko populations inside the reserve may be attributable to second order trophic interactions or subtle changes in vegetation structure and cover. This study suggests that populations of rodent species in northern South Australia below the CWR may also be significantly affected by introduced cats, foxes and/or rabbits and that a taxa specific model of Australian mammal decline may be more accurate than one based on body weight.

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