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Foxes in Tasmania - Update


The issue of foxes in Tasmania is one that has remained high on the Australian Mammal Society’s radar for many years now….and understandably for good reason! The Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and the Environment has been managing the eradication program through their Invasive Species Unit, and Dr Stephen Harris has provided us with the following information on the projects progress.

·         No physical evidence of fox presence in Tasmania has been collected or noted since 2011. We are hopeful about what this might mean but are conducting a methodical approach to determine absence/presence on the basis of several techniques.

1.       The first is landscape scale monitoring using detector dogs to systematically survey the extent of “core fox habitat”.  So far  over 470 K ha has been monitored (about a third of core fox habitat) and no positive detection has occurred.

2.       Secondly, an extensive sampling program for predator scats carried out across eastern Tasmania was completed recently. DNA from the scats will be determined to identify the predator and its prey items as part of an inter-connected series of studies which include determining whether fox is detected. Processing of these scats in the laboratory is likely to take some months. (posters on this work are being presented at the Society conference: see Campbell et al. and Modave et al. in the conference list of presentations).

3.       The third approach is mathematical modelling (Spread Model and Detection) using a Bayesian approach to produce an extinction probability curve for the incursion. Naturally the data set is small but preliminary indications support our hope (Caley and Barry, 2014) about fox status.  

·         The Department is embarking on stage 3 of the fox program which has field monitoring as a major component of its effort. We are also committed to developing a long term strategy for future fox incursions in the State. The work detailed above will clearly contribute to the first decision point in developing a decision management framework that guides how effort  and resources are best divided (e.g. surveillance, monitoring, quarantine) in the future.

·         Gonçalves et al.  published a letter in Forensic Science International Genetics regarding the issue of false negatives and false positives and a response has been submitted to the same journal (Sarre, McDonald, Berry, Barclay, Saunders and Ramsey).

Caley, P. And Berry, S.C. (2014) Quantifying extinction probabilities from sighting records: inference and uncertainties. PLoS ONE 9(4):e95857.doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0095857

Gonçalves, J., Marks, C.A., Obendorf, D., and Pereira, A.F.F. (2014) The risks of using “species-specific” PCR assays in wildlife research: The case of red fox (Vulpes vulpes) identification in Tasmania. Forensic Science International Genetics. 2014:e1-e3.

Sarre, S.D., McDonald, A.J., Berry, O.F., Barclay, C., Saunders, G.R. and Ramsey, D.S.L. (submitted) Defining specificity in DNA detection of wildlife: Response to Gonçalves et al. “The risks of using “species-specific” PCR assays in wildlife research: The case of red fox (Vulpes vulpes) identification in Tasmania. submitted to Forensic Science International Genetics.

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Quolls are in danger...


A recent article has been featured in The Conversation, highlighting the plight of our quolls.

With sharp teeth and an attitude to match, quolls are some of Australia’s most impressive hunters. Ranging from around 300g to 5kg, these spectacularly spotted marsupials do an out-sized job of controlling invasive pasture grubs and rodents, as well as cleaning up carcasses. They are even credited with thwarting early attempts to establish the rabbit in Australia.

But our quolls are in trouble. The recent Action Plan for Australian Mammals highlighted their extraordinary decline. Collectively, these species once occurred in high numbers across the country. Now they are all considered threatened, although not all state, federal and international listings reflect these current assessments.Read more in the full article.

ABC TV has also featured the decline of eastern quolls in Tasmania and the need for establishing an insurance population. Read or watch the full news story.

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Discovering New Antechinus


Over the last few years, my research team has been reviewing the systematics of the dasyurid marsupial genus Antechinus. In the course of this work, we have formally described three new species of antechinus, all from south-east Queensland. There is emerging evidence of several other new species within the genus from southern Australia. The team of scientists includes three PhD students, working on the basic ecology of each of the newly named species. Two of the new species appear to be limited geographically and steps are currently underway to list these animals as threatened under Queensland state legislation.

Antechinus 1

Hopefully, in the next few years as part of the PhD studies, the team will better understand the distributions of all three species to enable their Federal listing in a threatened category. The research to date could not have been conducted without the generous help of many collectors across Australia enabling a total evidence approach, explicitly linking genetics with morphology. The results beg the question: what other new mammal species are still hiding in our diverse Australian forests? The team seeks ear clips (genetics) and voucher specimens (morphology) from all antechinus species across Australia, in all locations. In particular, dusky antechinus (A. swainsonii) samples are sought from across their distribution in south-east Australia, especially Tasmania.

Scientists or collectors wishing to donate any and all antechinus samples should please contact me ASAP: Andrew Baker (Queensland University of Technology Science and Engineering); phone: 0424 272 051; email:

Antechinus 2

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Christmas Island Flying Fox now Critically Endangered


The Christmas Island flying-fox has been listed as Critically Endangered. The decline in the population is alarming, and scientists are fearing a scenario similar to the one that led the Christmas Island pipistrelle to extinction recently. Some of the best flying-fox scientists in Australia are tackling the issue.

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