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Feral cats, foxes a greater threat in Outback than climate change

1 November 2017
We have lost some 30 mammal species since European arrival

A study of changing rainfall and bushfire patterns has found - in addition to a likely decrease in cover of the dominant plant spinifex - feral animals pose a major threat to seed-eating rodents in central Australia.

Predators have contributed to about 60 percent of the world's bird, mammal and reptile extinctions.
Dr Aaron Greenville
The desert mouse, Pseudomys desertor, is listed as Critically Endangered in NSW but not in Queensland. It is one of the species of rodents we capture as part of our work. Photos taken in the Simpson Desert; credit Aaron Greenville.

The desert mouse, Pseudomys desertor, is listed as Critically Endangered in NSW but not in QLD. It is one of the species of rodents researchers captured as part of their work. Simpson Desert photos: credit Dr Aaron Greenville.

Scientists at the University of Sydney have analysed up to 22 years of long-term monitoring data on plants and animals in central Australia to project how changing rainfall and wildfire patterns, because of climate change, will influence desert wildlife.

The research from the University of Sydney’s School of Life and Environmental Sciences, found while vegetation cover may decline because of climate change, the strongest negative effect on prey populations in this desert system is suppression from introduced predators.

The findings are being published in the Royal Society’s journal Open Science.

Some estimates have suggested that up to one in six species are at risk from climate change. Predators can take advantage of more open habitats for hunting, which puts more pressure on wildlife.

Lead author Dr Aaron Greenville said the model suggested that if removing introduced cats and foxes, the rodent population could increase by almost one in 10 in the study area within the Simpson Desert. “The dingo plays a complex positive role for wildlife in arid Australia,” added Dr Greenville.

The researchers, Dr Aaron Greenville, Professor Glenda Wardle and Professor Chris Dickman, in addition to working in the Faculty of Science, are affiliated with the Desert Ecology Research Group and the Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network in Australia.

Vivienne Reiner

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