What we’re reading: Feb 6, 2015

Assessing Population Health of Salamander Populations
Congrats to SNPits writer Britt for a new publication this week! In a study of three species of salamanders across 200 ponds, the density of salamanders in a pond was best predicted by habitat features, while body size was best predicted by interactions among larvae. This discrepancy between larval density and body size, a strong predictor of fitness in this system, highlighted a potential shortcoming in using density or abundance as a metric of habitat quality or population health.

What’s so Bad about Feral Kitties? A Lot for Wildlife Species
Predation by feral cats is a serious threat to Australia’s native wildlife. In this paper the authors combined 49 datasets to gain a continental perspective of feral cat diets. They discovered that cats eat a wide range of animals, including 391 native vertebrates, 9 introduced vertebrates, 13 orders of insects and a range of other invertebrates. These include 28 species from the IUCN Red List. They also discovered that cats are opportunistic and will switch prey in response to changes in availability. This has implications for wildlife management – for example cats seem to prefer to eat rabbits, but if rabbits are not available they will eat other native mammals instead. This means that rabbit control measures could lead to increased predation on threatened species, if cats are not also controlled!

Dingoes: Boon or Bane?
Management of dingoes is a controversial issue in Australia. Some view them as native dogs with an important ecological role, others think they are dangerous agricultural pests that should be controlled. There is extensive literature on both sides of this debate. One area of controversy is the role of the dingo (Canis lupus dingo), a top predator, in the conservation of its prey species. Dingoes are thought to be beneficial to conservation because they suppress cats and foxes. In contrast, these introduced predators are more likely to drive their prey populations to extinction. But there has been considerable debate over whether the methods used to survey dingo impacts are robust. In this paper, the authors argue that we do have enough evidence to show that dingoes are beneficial, the methods used are valid, and we should now incorporate dingoes into conservation management plans before too many other species are threatened by cats and foxes.

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