Dingoes and kangaroos

Maintaining balance: managing vertebrate predators in the presence of livestock

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 2019 and domestic students 31 October 2019.  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 2019 and domestic students 31 October 2019.  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 2019 and domestic students 31 October 2019.  Please contact Trish Fleming t.fleming@murdoch.edu.au for further details.