I have been following this fox - night parrot discussion closely as it is
something I am very interested in.
>From 2011 I worked as an Ecologist consultant in the Brigalow Belt and
North-West Highlands of Queensland for a few years.
During this time I surveyed dozens of large cattle stations from the NSW
QLD border to north of Mt Isa and east to Ingham.
Surveys always including the setting of camera traps.
When I set camera traps I recorded Dingoes and feral cats on every property
I surveyed. But I never once recorded Foxes.
Interestingly, on every property, I regularly recorded Bush Stone Curlew,
Bustard, high abundance of Quail species, and Squatter Pigeon (or Spinifex
Pigeon in Mt Isa) as well as small macropods like Rufous Bettong,
Spectacled Hare Wallaby, Northern Nailtail Wallaby, and Northern Brown
Habitat availability was only part of the picture as most sites I
surveyed were heavily cleared cattle stations with only small, often
degraded remnants. There was never the amount of remnant woodland that you
find in the NSW rangelands.
Cross the border into NSW where I later worked (still in the Southern
Brigalow Belt bioregion!) and all of the above native birds and mamals I
listed that were once in NSW are now functionally extinct (as of ~100
years)! The list of once common species now endangered (or extinct) in
northern and central NSW includes Bustard, Bush Stone Curlew, Squatter
Pigeon, Rufous Bettong and more. Whats more, I found foxes in high
abundance on every property I surveyed in this area.
Why did I get so many "Critical Weight Range Mammals" and "Ground Nesting
Birds" in QLD and none in NSW? My only hypothesis is owing to the lack of
foxes in QLD. Why the lack of foxes? I put it down to the serious
dingo/wild dog "infestation" or dare I say "benefit" in QLD.
Studies have shown that dingoes/wild dogs suppress fox abundance where fox
and dog/dingo co-occur. At present there is a lack of correlative studies
that show the tripartisan relationship between these two predators and
their prey items, particularly the predation sensitive ground bird and CRW
mammal species I listed above.
All the dingo/dog scats I collected during my time in QLD were sent to
Barbara Triggs and the contents were overwhelmingly dominated by Macropus
In contrast, foxes are known to eat far more small mammal, bird and insect
Cats are a serious problem, and habitat destruction is obviously the most
serious issue biodiversity faces in NSW at present, but foxes are the main
reason why we have lost so many medium sized mammals and ground nesting
birds from NSW and Victoria.
Across Northern Sydney in the early 2000s, all of the councils and National
Parks banded together and conducted the largest ever targeted fox baiting
program in Sydney. Over the next 10 years, we saw a sudden resurgence in
"fox prey" species such as the Long-nosed Bandicoot, Swamp Wallaby and
Brush Turkey (which had been extirpated from Sydney for well over 50
years). Foxes became rare. They were successfully controlled enough to
allow recolonisation and survival of their native prey.
Fauna species, particularly birds, will always find a way to disperse and
return to available habitat when the one thing preventing them is removed
(In this case, foxes).
If adequate funding was allocated toward an active fox eradication
program (or more politcally sensititve, if dingoes/wild dogs were allowed
to live) across central, northern and eastern NSW. We would see a rapid
increase in many if not all of the species I listed above, especially the
nomadic ground birds like Bustards, Bush Stone Curlew and Squatter Pigeon.
Such birds would soon colonise NSW from north of the border and spread
south, eventually back to their former distribution.
If we did the same and controlled foxes across the Western Division of
NSW we may also see an increase in arid specialists like Grasswrens, Night
Parrot and the like.
Likewise, further east we would see a population increase in Ground Parrot
and Eastern Bristlebirds.
Remove foxes from most of New South Wales and we will 1. prevent
extinctions and 2. experience the luxury of iconic bird species returning
to their former place in our landscape.
Kurtis J. Lindsay Bsc (Hons)
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