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Tasmania fox invasion threatens wave of extinction amongst native species

11/12/2012 11:25:41

Although few have been seen, there is plenty of hard evidence of foxes in Tasmania.

Swift and decisive action is needed

December 2012. The effort to stop the irreversible spread of foxes in Tasmania is at a critical stage with many native species at risk of extinction, according to new research by University of Canberra ecologists and their collaborators.

Using DNA detection techniques developed at the University, the team mapped the presence of foxes in Tasmania, predicted their spread and developed a model of their likely distribution as a blueprint for fox eradication, but swift and decisive action is needed.

Already widespread in northern and eastern Tasmania
University of Canberra professor in wildlife genetics and leader of the team, Stephen Sarre, found foxes are widespread in northern and eastern Tasmania and the model developed by his team forecasts they will spread even further with likely devastating consequences for the island's wildlife.

Catastrophic wave of extinction
"There's nothing fantastic about foxes being in Tasmania. If we allow them to establish themselves we could see a catastrophic wave of extinction across the island," Professor Sarre said.

"This research shows foxes are on the verge of becoming irreversibly present in Tasmania," he said. "Their apparent widespread distribution indicates that the eradication effort is at a critical point and that there is no time to lose."

Fox scat research
Professor Sarre and colleagues used forensic DNA tests combined with collections of fox scats to detect and map the distribution of the predator in Tasmania. Their detective work, in partnership with Tasmania's Fox Eradication Program, represents one of the largest surveys of its kind worldwide and provides the first systematic examination of the distribution of foxes in the island, following evidence and allegations that indicate a long history of isolated introductions.

According to Professor Sarre, the widespread nature of the predator distribution in Tasmania reveals that targeting only fox activity hotspots for eradication is unlikely to be successful.

"The recently adopted plan of baiting all highly suitable fox habitats is the right one given the widespread fox distribution that we've found. The present situation could be as serious a threat to the pristine Tasmanian environment as the previous extinction wave was to Australia's mainland fauna, following the arrival of Europeans and which has so far wiped out more than 20 species.

"We suggest an increased effort and an even more focused approach to maximize the chances of a successful eradication. Otherwise, Australia stands on the precipice of another major episode of mammalian extinctions."

The organisations involved in the research include the University of Canberra, Arthur Rylah Institute, NSW Department of Primary Industry, and Tasmanian Department of Primary Industry Parks Water and the Environment collaborating, with and partially funded by, the Invasive Animals CRC.

The research was published in the British Ecological Society's Journal of Applied Ecology.


Read the comments about this article and leave your own comment

Foxes in Tasmania

To anyone living in Tasmania, as I do, the 'research' cited here is a complete nonsense. As Dee Donworth indicates, the 'evidence' of widespread fox presence in this state has been controversial for decades. Scats and carcasses tend to be conveniently found when the next round of funding is due for the equally controversial Fox Eradication Taskforce. The only proven sighting of an actual live fox was in the early 90s when a fox trotted off a ship docked at the Burnie wharf (north-west coast) that had come from Melbourne. Foxes definitely are in Melbourne, they've been an urban pest there for years. But established in Tasmania? No, few people here seriously think so.

Posted by: Anne Layton-Bennett | 30 Dec 2012 02:55:30


so in 14 years.only i fox skull has been found ? 4 carcasses. 2 whole footprints ? and in 14 years 61 droppings. !!! and the impact on wildlife has been ? my sister lives in Tasmania, and some of the wildlife " protection " laws seem bizarre. she has never seen or heard a fox. yet they are told there are widespread ?? killing for killling sake. birth control in food would be a sensible answer surely. does the Tasmanian devil eat other species ?

Posted by: dee donworth | 15 Dec 2012 16:50:18

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