Conservation conundrums and the challenges of managing unexplained declines of multiple species

David B. Lindenmayer, Jeff Wood, Christopher MacGregor, Claire Foster, Ben Scheele, Ayesha Tulloch, Philip Barton, Sam Banks, Natasha Robinson, Nick Dexter, Luke S. O'Loughlin, Sarah Legge

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

Abstract

The conventional approach to conserving threatened biota is to identify drivers of decline, instigate actions to mitigate threatening processes, and monitor interventions to test their effectiveness and ensure target species recover. In Australia, predation by introduced predators is a threatening process for many native mammals. Here we report the results of a 15 year monitoring study in an iconic Australian reserve, Booderee National Park, where exotic Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) populations have been controlled through an intensive poison baiting program since 2003. Unexpectedly, we documented the collapse of native mammal fauna during this period, including fully arboreal species that should be largely unaffected by fox predation – such as the nationally Vulnerable Greater Glider (Petauroides volans) and Common Ringtail Possum (Pseudocheirus peregrinus). We used path analysis to explore potential causes of these unexpected declines. We found no compelling evidence to support hypotheses that competition with increasing native species, native predator release, or increases in native herbivores underpinned mammal declines. Beyond the path analysis, data from other studies completed both inside Booderee National Park and outside (where intensive fox baiting does not occur yet depleted fauna species remain), allowed us to rule out several drivers of change. The temporal declines we documented for arboreal marsupials were not anticipated nor explained by any clear mechanism. We propose the use of experimentally-guided reintroductions and translocations to: (1) restore empty niches such as the currently vacant apex mammal predator niche, (2) reconstruct the now depleted arboreal marsupial guild, and (3) further test key hypotheses associated with mammal decline. We also suggest that given the potential for perverse outcomes following large-scale management interventions (even those where there is high confidence of success), wildlife managers should consider maintaining reference areas (where there is no management intervention). Finally, as the declines we documented were unexpected and rapid, there is a clear need to develop more sensitive early warning signals to alert conservation managers to impending problems, allowing them to alter management regimes before major declines occur.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)279-292
Number of pages14
JournalBiological Conservation
Volume221
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - May 2018
Externally publishedYes

Fingerprint

mammal
mammals
path analysis
baiting
marsupial
Vulpes vulpes
predator
Metatheria
foxes
predators
niche
national parks
managers
national park
niches
predation
fauna
arboreal species
Peregrinus
monitoring

Cite this

Lindenmayer, D. B., Wood, J., MacGregor, C., Foster, C., Scheele, B., Tulloch, A., ... Legge, S. (2018). Conservation conundrums and the challenges of managing unexplained declines of multiple species. Biological Conservation, 221, 279-292. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2018.03.007
Lindenmayer, David B. ; Wood, Jeff ; MacGregor, Christopher ; Foster, Claire ; Scheele, Ben ; Tulloch, Ayesha ; Barton, Philip ; Banks, Sam ; Robinson, Natasha ; Dexter, Nick ; O'Loughlin, Luke S. ; Legge, Sarah. / Conservation conundrums and the challenges of managing unexplained declines of multiple species. In: Biological Conservation. 2018 ; Vol. 221. pp. 279-292.
@article{6885f35da7a848d9a6452c36f2162212,
title = "Conservation conundrums and the challenges of managing unexplained declines of multiple species",
abstract = "The conventional approach to conserving threatened biota is to identify drivers of decline, instigate actions to mitigate threatening processes, and monitor interventions to test their effectiveness and ensure target species recover. In Australia, predation by introduced predators is a threatening process for many native mammals. Here we report the results of a 15 year monitoring study in an iconic Australian reserve, Booderee National Park, where exotic Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) populations have been controlled through an intensive poison baiting program since 2003. Unexpectedly, we documented the collapse of native mammal fauna during this period, including fully arboreal species that should be largely unaffected by fox predation – such as the nationally Vulnerable Greater Glider (Petauroides volans) and Common Ringtail Possum (Pseudocheirus peregrinus). We used path analysis to explore potential causes of these unexpected declines. We found no compelling evidence to support hypotheses that competition with increasing native species, native predator release, or increases in native herbivores underpinned mammal declines. Beyond the path analysis, data from other studies completed both inside Booderee National Park and outside (where intensive fox baiting does not occur yet depleted fauna species remain), allowed us to rule out several drivers of change. The temporal declines we documented for arboreal marsupials were not anticipated nor explained by any clear mechanism. We propose the use of experimentally-guided reintroductions and translocations to: (1) restore empty niches such as the currently vacant apex mammal predator niche, (2) reconstruct the now depleted arboreal marsupial guild, and (3) further test key hypotheses associated with mammal decline. We also suggest that given the potential for perverse outcomes following large-scale management interventions (even those where there is high confidence of success), wildlife managers should consider maintaining reference areas (where there is no management intervention). Finally, as the declines we documented were unexpected and rapid, there is a clear need to develop more sensitive early warning signals to alert conservation managers to impending problems, allowing them to alter management regimes before major declines occur.",
keywords = "Biodiversity collapse, Ecological surprises, Exotic predator control, Experimental reintroduction, Long-term monitoring, Mammal decline, Novel assemblages, Novel management interventions",
author = "Lindenmayer, {David B.} and Jeff Wood and Christopher MacGregor and Claire Foster and Ben Scheele and Ayesha Tulloch and Philip Barton and Sam Banks and Natasha Robinson and Nick Dexter and O'Loughlin, {Luke S.} and Sarah Legge",
year = "2018",
month = "5",
doi = "10.1016/j.biocon.2018.03.007",
language = "English",
volume = "221",
pages = "279--292",
journal = "Biological Conservation",
issn = "0006-3207",
publisher = "Elsevier",

}

Lindenmayer, DB, Wood, J, MacGregor, C, Foster, C, Scheele, B, Tulloch, A, Barton, P, Banks, S, Robinson, N, Dexter, N, O'Loughlin, LS & Legge, S 2018, 'Conservation conundrums and the challenges of managing unexplained declines of multiple species', Biological Conservation, vol. 221, pp. 279-292. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2018.03.007

Conservation conundrums and the challenges of managing unexplained declines of multiple species. / Lindenmayer, David B.; Wood, Jeff; MacGregor, Christopher; Foster, Claire; Scheele, Ben; Tulloch, Ayesha; Barton, Philip; Banks, Sam; Robinson, Natasha; Dexter, Nick; O'Loughlin, Luke S.; Legge, Sarah.

In: Biological Conservation, Vol. 221, 05.2018, p. 279-292.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

TY - JOUR

T1 - Conservation conundrums and the challenges of managing unexplained declines of multiple species

AU - Lindenmayer, David B.

AU - Wood, Jeff

AU - MacGregor, Christopher

AU - Foster, Claire

AU - Scheele, Ben

AU - Tulloch, Ayesha

AU - Barton, Philip

AU - Banks, Sam

AU - Robinson, Natasha

AU - Dexter, Nick

AU - O'Loughlin, Luke S.

AU - Legge, Sarah

PY - 2018/5

Y1 - 2018/5

N2 - The conventional approach to conserving threatened biota is to identify drivers of decline, instigate actions to mitigate threatening processes, and monitor interventions to test their effectiveness and ensure target species recover. In Australia, predation by introduced predators is a threatening process for many native mammals. Here we report the results of a 15 year monitoring study in an iconic Australian reserve, Booderee National Park, where exotic Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) populations have been controlled through an intensive poison baiting program since 2003. Unexpectedly, we documented the collapse of native mammal fauna during this period, including fully arboreal species that should be largely unaffected by fox predation – such as the nationally Vulnerable Greater Glider (Petauroides volans) and Common Ringtail Possum (Pseudocheirus peregrinus). We used path analysis to explore potential causes of these unexpected declines. We found no compelling evidence to support hypotheses that competition with increasing native species, native predator release, or increases in native herbivores underpinned mammal declines. Beyond the path analysis, data from other studies completed both inside Booderee National Park and outside (where intensive fox baiting does not occur yet depleted fauna species remain), allowed us to rule out several drivers of change. The temporal declines we documented for arboreal marsupials were not anticipated nor explained by any clear mechanism. We propose the use of experimentally-guided reintroductions and translocations to: (1) restore empty niches such as the currently vacant apex mammal predator niche, (2) reconstruct the now depleted arboreal marsupial guild, and (3) further test key hypotheses associated with mammal decline. We also suggest that given the potential for perverse outcomes following large-scale management interventions (even those where there is high confidence of success), wildlife managers should consider maintaining reference areas (where there is no management intervention). Finally, as the declines we documented were unexpected and rapid, there is a clear need to develop more sensitive early warning signals to alert conservation managers to impending problems, allowing them to alter management regimes before major declines occur.

AB - The conventional approach to conserving threatened biota is to identify drivers of decline, instigate actions to mitigate threatening processes, and monitor interventions to test their effectiveness and ensure target species recover. In Australia, predation by introduced predators is a threatening process for many native mammals. Here we report the results of a 15 year monitoring study in an iconic Australian reserve, Booderee National Park, where exotic Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) populations have been controlled through an intensive poison baiting program since 2003. Unexpectedly, we documented the collapse of native mammal fauna during this period, including fully arboreal species that should be largely unaffected by fox predation – such as the nationally Vulnerable Greater Glider (Petauroides volans) and Common Ringtail Possum (Pseudocheirus peregrinus). We used path analysis to explore potential causes of these unexpected declines. We found no compelling evidence to support hypotheses that competition with increasing native species, native predator release, or increases in native herbivores underpinned mammal declines. Beyond the path analysis, data from other studies completed both inside Booderee National Park and outside (where intensive fox baiting does not occur yet depleted fauna species remain), allowed us to rule out several drivers of change. The temporal declines we documented for arboreal marsupials were not anticipated nor explained by any clear mechanism. We propose the use of experimentally-guided reintroductions and translocations to: (1) restore empty niches such as the currently vacant apex mammal predator niche, (2) reconstruct the now depleted arboreal marsupial guild, and (3) further test key hypotheses associated with mammal decline. We also suggest that given the potential for perverse outcomes following large-scale management interventions (even those where there is high confidence of success), wildlife managers should consider maintaining reference areas (where there is no management intervention). Finally, as the declines we documented were unexpected and rapid, there is a clear need to develop more sensitive early warning signals to alert conservation managers to impending problems, allowing them to alter management regimes before major declines occur.

KW - Biodiversity collapse

KW - Ecological surprises

KW - Exotic predator control

KW - Experimental reintroduction

KW - Long-term monitoring

KW - Mammal decline

KW - Novel assemblages

KW - Novel management interventions

UR - http://www.scopus.com/inward/record.url?scp=85044469618&partnerID=8YFLogxK

U2 - 10.1016/j.biocon.2018.03.007

DO - 10.1016/j.biocon.2018.03.007

M3 - Article

VL - 221

SP - 279

EP - 292

JO - Biological Conservation

JF - Biological Conservation

SN - 0006-3207

ER -