A NEW study has found that fire and dingoes could be the key to managing fox populations in the region.
A Deakin University study looked at how fire management could help control feral pests in the Big Desert National Park.
University ecologist and Associate Professor Euan Ritchie said fire played a really important role in changing habit structure.
He said dingoes could also suppress fox numbers because of an increased predation risk.
“In Victoria, we do a lot of burning off and we wanted to look at what effect fire has on the landscape,” he said.
“We also wanted to see if dingoes could be used to benefit native animals.”
Associate Professor Ritchie said camera traps were set up in the national park to monitor animal populations.
“Cameras are a great way to survey mammals, especially predators because they aren’t aware they are there,” he said.
“The cameras were in the region for about two or three months and were mostly fixed to trees.”
Associate Professor Ritchie said the cameras captured a range of animals, including dingoes, foxes, feral cats, echidnas, kangaroos, hopping mice and other small rodents.
“The cameras showed there was a negative interaction between dingoes and foxes, with foxes avoiding direct interaction,” he said.
“We also found that dingoes were attracted to recently burnt areas.
“The open terrain provided better conditions for dingoes to pursue and hunt kangaroos, which are attracted to these areas as they can graze on the nutritious vegetation that regrows following fire.
“In areas where dingoes were more active, there wasn’t as many foxes.
“So while foxes themselves were not directly affected by fire, a negative association between dingoes and foxes means that fire has an indirect impact on foxes.”
Associate Professor Ritchie said in the future, when fire authorities did management burns, they should be conscious of how it affects foxes and dingo.
“This research shows that disturbance regimes have the capacity to shape interactions between native and invasive predators,” he said.
“Carefully managed fires could help increase dingo activity in landscapes, and in turn aid the suppression of foxes.”
“We now want to investigate if manipulating fire regimes through fire management could help protect native prey – like small mammals, reptiles and birds – from the negative impact of foxes.
“We also want to look at the affect on other predators like feral cats, and herbivores such as kangaroos.”