More than mere numbers: the impact of lethal control on the social stability of a top-order predator
Wallach, Arian D., Ritchie, Euan G., Read, John and O'Neill, Adam J. 2009, More than mere numbers: the impact of lethal control on the social stability of a top-order predator, PLoS ONE, vol. 4, no. 9, pp. 1-8, doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0006861.
Population control of socially complex species may have profound ecological implications that remain largely invisible if only their abundance is considered. Here we discuss the effects of control on a socially complex top-order predator, the dingo (Canis lupus dingo). Since European occupation of Australia, dingoes have been controlled over much of the continent. Our aim was to investigate the effects of control on their abundance and social stability. We hypothesized that dingo abundance and social stability are not linearly related, and proposed a theoretical model in which dingo populations may fluctuate between three main states: (A) below carrying capacity and socially fractured, (B) above carrying capacity and socially fractured, or (C) at carrying capacity and socially stable. We predicted that lethal control would drive dingoes into the unstable states A or B, and that relaxation of control would allow recovery towards C. We tested our predictions by surveying relative abundance (track density) and indicators of social stability (scent-marking and howling) at seven sites in the arid zone subject to differing degrees of control. We also monitored changes in dingo abundance and social stability following relaxation and intensification of control. Sites where dingoes had been controlled within the previous two years were characterized by low scent-marking activity, but abundance was similar at sites with and without control. Signs of social stability steadily increased the longer an area was allowed to recover from control, but change in abundance did not follow a consistent path. Comparison of abundance and stability among all sites and years demonstrated that control severely fractures social groups, but that the effect of control on abundance was neither consistent nor predictable. Management decisions involving large social predators must therefore consider social stability to ensure their conservation and ecological functioning.
Field of Research
050202 Conservation and Biodiversity
Socio Economic Objective
960805 Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity at Regional or Larger Scales
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