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12 December 2016 How to catch red foxes red handed: identifying predation of freshwater turtles and nests
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Context. Predation is one of the key contributors to mortality in freshwater turtles. Confirming the identity of predators is an important step towards conservation management action. Throughout Australia, the red fox (Vulpes vulpes) is suspected to apply significant and unsustainable predation pressure to turtle populations, killing adults and depredating nests; however methods for confirming this are limited.

Aims. The present study used a range of methods to confirm predation of oblong turtle (Chelodina colliei) nests and adults by the introduced red fox.

Methods. First, depredated adult carapaces, and turtle egg-shell fragments from excavated nests were swabbed and analysed for trace DNA. Second, we used artificial turtle nests, monitored by camera traps, to analyse seasonal changes in the behaviour of foxes around sites where turtle nests are present, including over the nesting season. Last, we used scat analysis to identify the prevalence of turtle remains in fox diet.

Key results. Predominantly fox DNA was recovered from both adult carapaces and depredated eggs. In addition, camera traps recorded only foxes depredating artificial nests. Despite this evidence that foxes kill adults and excavated nests, we found that turtle remains were only a small part of the diet of foxes at this study site (hatchling or turtle egg shell were present in only 4% of 230 scats sampled). The diet of these foxes was largely anthropogenic-sourced foods, such as fruit (e.g. figs, grapes, melons; 81% of scats), sheep carrion (41%) and rodents (36%).

Conclusions. We conclude that DNA analysis, camera trapping and scat analysis are effective methods of identifying foxes as predators of adult turtle, and their nests. Furthermore, we found that anthropogenic foods (orchard crops, livestock or synanthropic species) may subsidise greater fox population size than might occur in their absence, thereby increasing potential pressure on these freshwater turtles.

Implications. Our findings give credence to the argument that foxes are effective predators of turtle adults and nests. In addition, the high proportion of anthropogenic food sources in the diet of foxes, and potential subsidisation, is an important consideration for land managers.

© CSIRO 2016
Stuart J. Dawson, Heather M. Crawford, Robert M. Huston, Peter J. Adams, and Patricia A. Fleming "How to catch red foxes red handed: identifying predation of freshwater turtles and nests," Wildlife Research 43(8), 615-622, (12 December 2016).
Received: 5 April 2016; Accepted: 1 October 2016; Published: 12 December 2016

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