Habitat structure facilitates coexistence of native and invasive mesopredators in an Australian tropical savanna

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Abstract

Context: The introduction of the cat (Felis catus) to Australia has been a key driver of the decline and extinction of the continent’s endemic mammals. Currently, there is no clear long-term solution to controlling feral populations of cats at a landscape scale. As such, understanding how environmental conditions and habitat attributes can mediate the coexistence between introduced predators and native mammals can improve management outcomes for threatened species.
Aim: We sought to compare the differences in habitat use by feral cats and a remnant population of the endangered northern quoll (Dasyurus hallucatus) to understand what environmental variables allow these two mesopredators to coexist in tropical savanna of Cape York Peninsula, Queensland.
Methods: We deployed grids of motion-activated cameras three times per year over a 3-year period, across Eucalyptus tetrodonta-dominated plateaux known to be inhabited by feral cats and northern quolls. We modelled the spatial variation in the frequencies of detection of feral cats and northern quolls (referred to as ‘habitat use’), as a function of biotic and abiotic environmental variables by using a generalised linear model for consistent variables and a generalised linear mixed-effect model for fluctuating variables.
Key results: Habitat use by feral cats was most frequent in areas with high fire frequencies and low tree basal area, whereas habitat use by northern quolls was most frequent in areas of high basal area of E. tetrodonta (a commonly used den tree species), topographic ruggedness, and long-unburnt savanna.
Conclusions: Frequent fires in tropical savanna promote habitat use by feral cats and can result in a reduction of critical habitat for northern quolls.
Implications: We postulate that remnant populations of northern quolls on Cape York Peninsula occur in less frequently burnt refugia, primarily on top of plateaux that support high-biomass tropical savanna dominated by E. tetrodonta. Our findings highlighted that threatened mammals can persist alongside introduced predators in tropical savanna but are dependent on the maintenance of structurally complex habitat.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1058-1070
Number of pages13
JournalWildlife Research
Volume50
Issue number12
Early online date13 Feb 2023
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 13 Feb 2023

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