When the fox is away, potoroos can play: does fox control alter a threatened native mammal’s response to fire?

By 10/07/2019Current Projects
HSF 19107 | Amount: $66,000 | Project Leader: J Pascoe | Project Period: Jul ’19 – Jul ‘22

A project undertaken by the Conservation Ecology Centre, and supervised by Jack Pascoe

In Australia, inappropriate fire regimes and introduced predators have been implicated as the primary drivers of post-European mammal extinctions. A growing body of evidence suggests these threatening processes may interact, compounding threats to native fauna. For example, fire can make native mammals more vulnerable to foxes and feral cats by removing dense understory vegetation. Integrating fire and invasive predator management may be key to improving native fauna’s ability to persist in Australia’s increasingly fire-prone landscapes as fewer predators in the system may counteract an increase in vulnerability post-fire.

Figure 1. European Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) in the Great Otway National Park, Victoria. Picture credit: Mark Le Pla

However, before integrating management of fire and invasive predators, land managers urgently require robust field experiments to inform how best to approach this challenging issue. In particular, we first need to know if controlling introduced predators actually improves the survival and recovery of threatened native mammals after fire and secondly, why this is the case. Addressing these knowledge gaps is particularly important as large areas of south-eastern Australia are currently intensively managed for both fire and invasive predators, with little co-ordination. These type of research questions require high-quality, fine-scale movement data before, during and after fire events to answer; data best generated using GPS tracking technology.

Figure 2. Planned burn operation in the Otway Ranges, Victoria. Picture credit: Mark Le Pla

The Long-nosed Potoroo is a nationally-listed threatened mammal that is known to respond positively to fox control, but often declines or becomes locally extinct shortly after fire. This project will employ cutting-edge GPS tracking technology to monitor the survival and movements of Long-nosed Potoroos in landscapes with and without fox control within the Otway ranges, Victoria. This approach will enable the collection of high-resolution data on Long-nosed Potoroo behaviour and movements before, during and immediately after planned burning operations for the first time. By doing so, we aim to provide insight into how the availability of unburnt refuges and fox control can influence Long-nosed Potoroo survival and recovery post fire. If Long-nosed Potoroo resilience to fire can be improved through fox control (our key hypothesis), the implications for future management of fire and invasive predators will be substantial.

Figure 3. Long-nosed Potoroo (Potorous tridactylus). Picture credit: Nicolas Rakotopare