Les hommes ont oublié cette vérité. Mais tu ne dois pas l'oublier, dit le renard. Tu deviens responsable pour toujours de ce que tu as apprivoisé.
Le Petit Prince, chap. 21

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Controversy on cat's eradication on Macquarie Island: predator or pathogen's release?

Bergstrom D, Lucieer A, Kiefer K, Wasley J, Belbin L, Pedersen T & Chown S (2009). Indirect effects of invasive species removal devastate World Heritage Island. Journal of Applied Ecology, 46: 73-81

A feral cat roams among baby penguins on Macquarie Island.
Photo: Geoff Copson/ Tasmanian NPWS

1. Owing to the detrimental impacts of invasive alien species, their control is often a priority for conservation management. Whereas the potential for unforeseen consequences of management is recognized, their associated complexity and costs are less widely appreciated.

2. We demonstrate that theoretically plausible trophic cascades associated with invasive species removal not only take place in reality, but can also result in rapid and drastic landscape-wide changes to ecosystems.

3. Using a combination of population data from of an invasive herbivore, plot-scale vegetation analyses, and satellite imagery, we show how a management intervention to eradicate a mesopredator has inadvertently and rapidly precipitated landscape-wide change on sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island. This happened despite the eradication being positioned within an integrated pest management framework. Following eradication of cats Felis catus in 2001, rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus numbers increased substantially although a control action was in place (Myxoma virus), resulting in island-wide ecosystem effects.

http://ingervandyke.com/conservation/
4. Synthesis and applications. Our results highlight an important lesson for conservation agencies working to eradicate invasive species globally; that is, risk assessment of management interventions must explicitly consider and plan for their indirect effects, or face substantial subsequent costs. On Macquarie Island, the cost of further conservation action will exceed AU$24 million.

Dowding, J. E., Murphy, E. C., Springer, K., Peacock, A. J., & Krebs, C. J. (2009). Cats, rabbits, Myxoma virus, and vegetation on Macquarie Island: a comment on Bergstrom et al.(2009). Journal of Applied Ecology, 46(5), 1129-1132.

1. Eradication of a single pest species from a multiply invaded island system may have unpredicted and detrimental impacts.Bergstrom et al. (2009) describe damage to vegetation following an increase in the number of rabbits on Macquarie Island. They propose that the increase in rabbit numbers was caused solely by eradication of cats.

2. However, their modelling is flawed and their conclusion that cats were controlling rabbit numbers is unsupported. We suggest the increase was because of some combination of four factors: reduced releases of Myxoma virus, abundant food after 20 years of vegetation recovery, release from cat predation and climate variability.

3. Recent high numbers of rabbits on Macquarie Island are not unprecedented; vegetation has been damaged in the past but has recovered. Rabbit numbers appear to be in decline again in the absence of both cats and Myxoma releases, suggesting that other factors can contribute to regulation of rabbit numbers in this system.

4. We do not agree with the implication that pest management could have been better integrated. Eradication techniques for rodents and rabbits on an island the size of Macquarie were unavailable when cat eradication was deemed necessary. The benefits to seabirds of cat eradication have been rapid. Our analysis further highlights the complexity of multiply invaded island ecosystems.

Bergstrom, D. M., Lucieer, A., Kiefer, K., Wasley, J., Belbin, L., Pedersen, T. K., & Chown, S. L. (2009). Management implications of the Macquarie Island trophic cascade revisited: a reply to Dowding et al.(2009). Journal of Applied Ecology, 46(5), 1133-1136.

1. The management of non-indigenous species is not without its complications. In Bergstrom et al.’s (2009) study, we demonstrated that feral cats Felis catus on sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island were exerting top-down control on the feral rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus population, and that the eradication of the cats led to a substantial increase in rabbit numbers and an associated trophic cascade.

2. Dowding et al. (2009) claim our modelling was flawed for various reasons, but primarily that a reduction in the application of the rabbit control agent, Myxoma virus, coinciding with cat removal, was a major driver of rabbit population release.

3. We explore this proposition (as well as others) by examining rates of Myxoma viral release between 1991 and 2006 (with an attenuation factor for the years, 2003–2006) in association with presence/absence of cats against two estimates of rabbit population size. Myxoma viral release was a significant factor in the lower estimates of rabbit population, but the effect was small, and was not significant for higher rabbit population estimates. By contrast, the presence or absence of cats remained highly significant for both estimates.

4.Synthesis and applications. We re-affirm our position that top-down control of rabbit numbers by cats, prior to their eradication, was occurring on Macquarie Island. Nonetheless, we agree with Dowding et al. (2009) that systems with multiple invasive species represent complex situations that require careful scrutiny. Such scrutiny should occur in advance of, during, and following management interventions.

More on Macquarie island cats

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