A comparative study of survival, recruitment and population growth in two translocated populations of the threatened greater bilby (Macrotis lagotis)

Karleah K. Berris, Steven J.B. Cooper, William G. Breed, Joshua R. Berris, Susan M. Carthew

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    Abstract

    Context: Translocations have been widely used to re-establish populations of threatened Australian mammalian species. However, they are limited by the availability of sites where key threats can be effectively minimised or eliminated. Outside of ‘safe havens’, threats such as exotic predators, introduced herbivores and habitat degradation are often unable to be completely eliminated. Understanding how different threats affect Australian mammal populations can assist in prioritising threat-management actions outside of safe havens.

    Aims: We sought to determine whether translocations of the greater bilby to two sites in the temperate zone of South Australia could be successful when human-induced threats, such as prior habitat clearance, historic grazing, the presence of feral cats and European rabbits, could not be completely eliminated.

    Methods: Greater bilbies were regularly cage trapped at two translocation sites and a capture–mark–recapture study was used to determine survival, recruitment and population growth at both sites.

    Key results: Our study showed that bilbies were successfully translocated to an offshore island with a previous history of grazing and habitat clearance, but which was free of exotic predators. At a second site, a mainland exclosure with feral cats and European rabbits present, the bilby population declined over time. Adult bilbies had similar survival rates in both populations; however, the mainland bilby population had low recruitment rates and low numbers of subadults despite high adult female fecundity.

    Conclusions: The results indicated that past grazing and habitat clearance did not prevent the bilby population on the offshore island establishing and reaching a high population density. In the mainland exclosure, the low recruitment is probably due to feral cats predating on subadult bilbies following pouch emergence.

    Implications: The results demonstrated that the bilby, an ecologically flexible Australian marsupial, can be successfully translocated to sites with a history of habitat degradation if exotic predators are absent. At the mainland exclosure site, threat mitigation for bilbies should focus on control or eradication of the feral cats. The control of European rabbits without control of feral cats could lead to prey-switching by feral cats, further increasing predation pressure on the small bilby population.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)415-425
    Number of pages11
    JournalWildlife Research
    Volume47
    Issue number5
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - Jul 2020

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