Alex Diment

Project: Fox ecology in response to lethal control

Foxes are Australia’s most costly vertebrate pest, costing the agricultural sector many millions in lost production, both from predation on lambs and harassment of stock. The cost to biodiversity is even higher, with many small and medium sized species (the critical weight range of 35g to 5.5kg) seriously impacted by fox predation, and at least 28 species of birds and mammals at extreme risk, only surviving due to intensive intervention.

At least 30 million dollars is spent each year on fox control projects in Australia. The effects of this control are often not well understood; neither the foxes themselves nor their negative impacts are appropriately monitored.

This PhD Research is part of the Southern Ark project, the largest fox control operation in Eastern Australia. A range of approaches are being used to understand the impacts of this control on the ecosystem, and to achieve the objectives listed above.  A range of traditional techniques for working with predators are being used such as sand plots across roads, counting scats and signs, trapping and radio tracking.  These are supplemented with some cutting edge technological techniques, which also allows the assessment of these novel methods in comparison to the tried and tested techniques.  These include satellite tracking, use of remote cameras, and non-invasive forensic DNA techniques.

This project is investigating the ecology of foxes in the face of intensive lethal control. The major aims are to:

  • Study fox movements and mortality in relation to control measures.
  • Estimate fox abundance and evaluate methods to measure relative and absolute population densities.
  • Investigate reinvasion of foxes back into intensively controlled areas.
  • Predict native species response to fox control, and evaluate methods to measure native species densities.

This project is part of the Southern Ark demonstration site for the IA CRC, and the techniques being developed through this PhD are part of the evolution of best practice control methodology, especially with regard to monitoring the impacts of the baiting program.

Background:

M.App.Sci. – Wildlife Population Management (University of Sydney, 2001)
M.A. (Hons) – Biological Science (University of Oxford, 1999)

After studying in Britain and Australia, I spent five years in Cambodia working on a wide variety of Conservation and Development projects. These included environmental management of land-mine clearance, river-dolphin conservation, and truly sustainable development for indigenous people living inside national parks.

I returned to Australia to work on the crucial issue of pest management, focusing on a long-standing interest in Australia’s most costly vertebrate pest, the red fox.

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Project details

CRC Program:
Uptake of Products and Strategies

Locations:
University of Sydney, Institute of Wildlife Research.
Fieldwork in far east Gippsland, Victoria

Supervisors:
Professor Chris Dickman (USyd)
Dr. Gordon Friend (Vic DSE)