Feral cats are a huge problem in Australia, feeding off more than 400 of Australia's animal species. A new study has discovered that tiny, endangered animals fare better in areas populated by dingoes, suggesting these canine cousins could be used as effective conservation tools.
Australian conservationists have observed a disturbing increase in feral cats over the last few years. Post-mortems of these captured rogue felines often reveal stomachs filled with small animals, and at quantities conservationists describe as "staggering." The cats are driving many species toward extinction. What's more, many of these feral cats are starting to get rather large.
Scientists aren't entirely sure how to deal with the issue, but a recent study suggests dingoes could be the answer. Observations at nearly 90 sites showed that dingoes, an apex predator, are providing "indirect protection" to a species of hopping mouse by feasting on its predator, feral cats.
"There is a two-way effect between dingoes and cats," noted Christopher Gordon from the University of Western Sydney in an Australian Geographic article. "The dingoes supress cat abundance by outcompeting for food resources; cats also provide a food resource for them."
Interestingly, the dingoes encouraged the dusky hopping mice to venture out and forage for food.
The study suggests that "size-dependant predation" occurs when dingoes aren't around or aren't abundant. As noted in Australian Geographic:
This is where smaller predators, such as feral cats and foxes, whittle down populations of prey species like the dusky hopping mouse, which are too small to be hunted by apex predators.
The study suggests dingoes could be introduced to areas with small mammals that are hit hardest by feral cats...
But as Gordon himself admits, using dingoes as conservation tools, while cost-effective and natural, is an idea that requires more research to "investigate the wider impacts of such strategies." Not to mention how difficult it's going to be to convince local livestock farmers.
Image: John Carnemolla/Shutterstock.