Tasmanian Wildlife Threatened By Fox Invasion
December 5, 2012

Fox Invasion Could Cause Wave Of Extinction For Native Tasmanian Wildlife

April Flowers for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

A research team led by the University of Canberra has used DNA detection techniques to map the presence of foxes in Tasmania. They also predicted the foxes spread and developed a model of their likely distribution as a blueprint for fox eradication. The team asserts that swift and decisive action is needed.

Stephen Sarre, University of Canberra professor in wildlife genetics, found that foxes are widespread in eastern and northern Tasmania. The model forecasts that the foxes will spread even further with possible devastating consequences for the island's other wildlife.

"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. Their apparent widespread distribution indicates that the eradication effort is at a critical point and that there is no time to lose."

The team combined forensic DNA tests with collections of fox scat to detect and map the distribution of the predator in Tasmania.

In collaboration with Tasmania's Fox Eradication Program, the team's detective work represents one of the largest surveys of its kind globally. The study provides the first systematic examination of the distribution of foxes on the island, which follows evidence and allegations that indicate a long history of isolated introductions.

The widespread nature of the fox distribution in Tasmania, according to Dr. Sarre, 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."

Results are published in the British Ecological Society´s Journal of Applied Ecology.