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2 May 2016 Fire and grass cover influence occupancy patterns of rare rodents and feral cats in a mountain refuge: implications for management
Peter J. McDonald, Alistair Stewart, Andrew T. Schubert, Catherine E. M. Nano, Chris R. Dickman, Gary W. Luck
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Abstract

Context. Feral cats (Felis catus) are implicated in the ongoing decline of Australian mammals. New research from northern Australia suggests that predation risk from feral cats could be managed by manipulating fire regimes to increase grass cover.

Aims. We investigate the role of fire history and hummock grass cover in the occurrence of feral cats and rare rodents, including the critically endangered central rock-rat (Zyzomys pedunculatus), in a mountain refuge in central Australia.

Methods. We installed 76 camera stations across four sites in the West MacDonnell National Park and used occupancy modelling to evaluate the influence of recent fire (within 5 years), hummock grass cover and ruggedness on feral cat and rodent occupancy.

Key results. Occupancy of the central rock-rat was positively associated with areas burnt within the past 5 years – a relationship probably driven by increased food resources in early succession vegetation. In contrast, the desert mouse (Pseudomys desertor) was detected at locations with dense hummock grass that had remained unburnt over the same period. Feral cats were widespread across the study area, although our data suggest that they forage less frequently in areas with dense hummock grass cover.

Conclusions. Our results suggest that fire management and grass cover manipulation can be used as a tool for rodent conservation in this environment and potentially elsewhere in arid Australia.

Implications. Creating food-rich patches within dense hummock grasslands may allow central rock-rats to increase occupancy while simultaneously affording them protection from predation. Landscape-scale wildfire resulting in a single post-fire vegetation age class is likely to be unfavourable for native rodents in this environment.

© The authors 2016
Peter J. McDonald, Alistair Stewart, Andrew T. Schubert, Catherine E. M. Nano, Chris R. Dickman, and Gary W. Luck "Fire and grass cover influence occupancy patterns of rare rodents and feral cats in a mountain refuge: implications for management," Wildlife Research 43(2), 121-129, (2 May 2016). https://doi.org/10.1071/WR15220
Received: 30 November 2015; Accepted: 1 February 2016; Published: 2 May 2016
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