Detecting pest and prey responses to fox control across the landscape using remote cameras
Context The red fox (Vulpes vulpes) is a widespread pest in southern Australia and is subject to control over large areas using poison baits to protect both agricultural and ecological assets. Foxes and their prey are often cryptic or in low densities, making it difficult to quantify the efficacy of control programs. Aims We explore the use of remote cameras to estimate the activity and spatial occupancy of foxes and potential mammalian and avian prey species before and after poison baiting in the Goonoo region, central New South Wales. Methods In the first of two studies, we set camera traps at 48 sites in forest and cleared areas, on and off tracks, during autumn 2009. In the second study, we placed camera traps in forest and cleared areas, on tracks only, at 100 sites covering an area of ~441500ha during winter 2009. We examined camera-trap rates of all species detected and the activity and site occupancy of a selected subset of species before and after poison baiting. Key results Camera traps indicated greater levels of fox activity on vehicular tracks than off them, with this difference being more marked in forest than in cleared agricultural land. Fox activity and occupancy were greater in agricultural land than in forest, with no effect of baiting detected at the landscape scale. Thirty-five other mammal and bird species were identified from photos, with activity for most being greater on than off tracks. Conclusions No clear effects of fox-baiting were detected on foxes or potential prey species in either study by either activity or occupancy. The lack of a baiting effect may reflect rapid recolonisation by foxes from unbaited areas, as bait placement is generally clustered in agricultural land, or the ready availability of alternative food (lambs or lamb carcasses) in some cleared areas. Implications Our results demonstrate that remote cameras provide a simple means of monitoring changes in fox activity and occupancy at the landscape level, and that these measures have great potential to quantify the success or otherwise of fox-control campaigns on both pest and prey species. CSIRO 2011.