Behavioural Ecology of Alien Species

What makes alien impacts so damaging?


Terrestrial alien predators have proven to be the worst of all invasive species and their impacts in Australia have been acute and devastating to our unique wildlife.

Our research aims to gain a better understanding of the behavioral and physiological processes which allow alien species to exploit native fauna successfully, with the goal of developing methods to disrupt these processes. We examine two key groups of invasive animals; predatory mammals and rodents.

a. Alien Predators

egg shells

Alien predators are a primary cause of biodiversity loss and few ecosystems have escaped their impact. Understanding how feral predators affect their prey is a critical conservation objective; not only to identify and protect prey species at risk but also to ensure efficient and targeted management of the problem. Importantly, the future of pest control relies upon ethical and clever solutions to reduce pest impacts with minimal affect on animal welfare.

A major initiative in this program involves understanding of the role of naiveté in predator: prey interactions. We have shown that alien predators have twice the impact on native prey than native predators and this is likely due to prey naiveté. Our research though
suggests multiple forms of naiveté exists that we predict will shape the nature of
interactions with predators

Recent Projects
picture on the road
  • Alex Carthey (PhD USYD 2013) The role of prey naiveté in vulnerability to alien predators
  • Andrew Daly (Hons USYD 2012) Olfactory eavesdropping by red foxes
  • Pälvi Salo (PhD University of Turku 2010) Ecology of feral mink in Finnish Archipelago
  • Karen Fey (PhD University of Turku 2009) Alteration of top down and bottom processes by feral mink in the ecology of vole populations
  • Bruce Mitchell (Hons UNSW 2004) Interactions between foxes and wild dogs in the Blue Mountains National Park

Prof. Erkki Korpimäki (University of Turku), Dr. Mikael Nordström, Prof. Chris Dickman
(USYD), Prof. Lauri Oksanen (University of Turku, Finland), Dr. Ricky Spencer (UWS),
Dr. Matt Hayward (AWC).

b. Introduced Rodents

measuring the rat

Alien rodents are arguably the world’s worst vertebrate pests. They are major pests of the world’s staple foods (rice and wheat), and cause millions of dollars damage in developed countries. In terms of conservation, rats are major predators of birds, insects and other small mammals, and have been directly linked to extinctions in Australia and the Pacific. They also spread disease, out-compete local species and support elevated numbers of predators which go on to kill other native fauna. Despite these impacts, the underlying biology and ecology of feral rodents is surprisingly poorly known.

Our research aims to develop a better understanding of the dynamics of two key rodent pests, the black rat and the house mouse, by testing theories of population processes. We also use manipulative experiments to reveal the nature of rodent impacts on native species,
and the functional role of rodents in ecosystem processes.

Recent Projects
rat in the dark
  • Helen Smith (PhD USYD 2015) When commensals go wild: the ecological consequences of exotic black rats (Rattus rattus) invading beyond the urban boundary
  • Amelia Saul (Hons USYD 2013) Aliens replacing natives: are black rats effective substitutes for extinct native mammalian pollinators?
  • Deborah Romero (Hons USYD 2012) Reinvasion of black rats across the urban/bushland interface: a test of ideal-free distribution models
  • Margarita Goumas (Hons UNSW 2011) Competitive interactions between an alien invasive (Rattus rattus) and a native competitor (Hydromys chrysogaster)
Kyla & rat
  • Stephanie Martin (Hons UNSW 2010) Habitat use by black rats and their response to Bush Regeneration
  • Vicki Stokes (PhD UNSW 2008) Interactions between black rats and native mammals at Jervis Bay
  • Rachel Miller (MSc UNSW 2007) Ecology & impacts of pest rodents in the Banaue Rice Terraces, Philippines
  • Peter Brown (PhD UNSW 2006) Compensatory processes in the management of rodent impacts in Australia and south-east Asia

Dr. Peter Brown (CSIRO), Prof. Erkki Korpimäki (University of Turku), Dr. Grant Singleton (IRRI, Philippines), Dr. Roger Pech (Landcare New Zealand)