Dingoes and kangaroos

Maintaining balance: managing vertebrate predators in the presence of livestock

Dingo diet in north-west WA

Maintaining balance: managing vertebrate predators in the presence of livestock

Predator-proof fencing has increased in popularity as a means of reducing predator access to livestock, and the WA State government has just announced an investment of $4 million in four new fenced areas.  Predator-proof fencing is used to protect varying size properties (‘cells’ or ‘clusters’).

These projects involve extensive fieldwork under remote conditions. You need to be an independent worker, who is capable and confident under a range of challenging situations. A valid manual driver’s licence is essential. Benefits of working within this collaborative environment include working directly alongside industry (the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development), undertaking a project that is relevant and beneficial for livestock producers, and working within a supportive mentoring environment to gain relevant practical skills that will increase employability.

Project 1.  Management of vertebrate populations within cell-fencing.

As an unintended consequence, while cluster fences enable targeted control of wild dog populations, they could also influence the population growth of native (i.e. macropods) and feral (i.e. goats etc) herbivores, which compete for grazing and in turn can affect livestock production.  This project aims to compare wild dog and herbivore activity between properties that exercise a range of control efforts: non-production with minimal control, production with minimal control, and production with intense control (including but not limited to fencing, baiting, use of Canid Pest Ejectors, and targeted trapping).

Livestock producers can manipulate water points to move stock across the landscape and assist with mustering, which also may also influence wild dog and macropod activity.  We will monitor activity around water points before and after they are switched off to identify potential impacts on wildlife.  This will inform management options in regard to potential self-mustering yards around water points.

This project will suit a student who is interested in wildlife behavioural ecology.  You would need to apply for a Research Training Program Stipend Scholarship.  Please note that the closing date for scholarships for international students is 30 September 2018 and domestic students 31 October 2018.  Please contact Trish Fleming t.fleming@murdoch.edu.au for further details.

Project 2.  Viability of manipulating predation and total grazing pressure for increased small stock production.

This project aims to identify to what degree fencing influences wild dogs and herbivores (i.e. macropods and feral goats) by comparing between properties that are fenced, unfenced but lie within a larger cell fence, or lie outside the cell fence area entirely.  Across a number of properties representing each treatment, we will monitor:

  • Wild dog and herbivore population management
  • Wild dog and herbivore activity (and ideally population numbers)
  • Vegetation ground cover (i.e. comparative assessment of available fodder)
  • Livestock stocking rates and reproductive rates

These data will inform whether

  • wild dog management is sufficient to allow producers to return to/increase small stock production
  • herbivore management is sufficient to minimise competition with livestock, thereby informing optimal harvesting regimes

Applying these data, we will determine whether wild dog and herbivore management is sufficient to allow landholders enterprise choice and to increase/return to small stock husbandry.

This project will suit a student who is interested in economic and wildlife population modelling. You would need to apply for a Research Training Program Stipend Scholarship.  Please note that the closing date for scholarships for international students is 30 September 2018 and domestic students 31 October 2018.  Please contact Trish Fleming t.fleming@murdoch.edu.au for further details.

Project 3: what happens to feral cats when you remove wild dogs?

The mesopredator release hypothesis predicts that removal of top order predators (e.g. wild dogs) can release suppression of smaller predators (e.g. feral cats), and therefore can increase predation pressure on native species that the smaller predator preys upon.  It has therefore been argued that removal of wild dogs could be detrimental for biodiversity overall, although collection of empirical data to address this hypothesis is still required.  Does construction of a predator-proof fence and control of the wild dog population within this cell mean that feral cats numbers increase?  This project aims to:

  • Identify feral cat population density inside and outside cluster fence sites
  • compare changes in feral cat population in the presence of intensive wild dog control
  • Identify changes in small mammal and reptile communities

This project will suit a student who is interested in wildlife behavioural ecology.  You would need to apply for a Research Training Program Stipend Scholarship.  Please note that the closing date for scholarships for international students is 30 September 2018 and domestic students 31 October 2018.  Please contact Trish Fleming t.fleming@murdoch.edu.au for further details.

Project 4: Working together to build fences – community-led action

In Western Australia, wild dog predation on livestock represents a significant economic threat to livestock producers, with flow-on effects to associated industries such as transport and shearing.   The Rangelands Cell Fencing Program was launched in February 2018 as a trial to determine if cell fencing is a cost-effective approach for protecting and renewing small livestock enterprises.

As part of the program, four Rangelands pastoral groups have been granted funding to erect cell fences on their properties and assess their impacts on wild dog predation, and a range of other economic and ecological indicators.

As part of a social research project funded by the Centre for Invasive Species Solutions (CISS), a team of researchers from the University of New England and Murdoch University will monitor the roll out of the program across at least 3 of the 4 cell fence sites.

The main objectives of the project are to:

  1. Document landholder motivations for participating in the cell fence program, and assess variability of motivations within each pastoral group, also across groups.
  2. Document challenges that arise during the rollout of the project for landholders inside and outside of the fences.
  3. Assess overall levels of project effectiveness (including, in consultation with DIPIRD, a cost-benefit analysis of the project in terms of economic, ecological and social outcomes). Identify factors that distinguish between more successful and less successful rollouts.
  4. Make recommendations for improving future cell fence initiatives in WA.  Practical advice for facilitators responsible for the roll out of new initiatives

This project will suit a student based in WA who is keen to get involved with community-led action.

The project has funding and a scholarship attached.  Please contact Don Hine (dhine@une.edu.au) or Lynette McLeod (lmcleod7@une.edu.au) for details.

Dingo diet in north-west WA

Dingoes are the largest terrestrial predator in Australia.  Little is known about their biology in north-west WA, an area where cattle farming is the primary land use and the landscape is considered the last refuge for many threatened species.  Understanding their diet will inform management strategies.  For example, we have a collection of dingo scats from around seismic lines.  These tracks increase access to bushland for dingoes (which preferentially use tracks), and may change their diet.