Study in Tasmania suggests that HARRiSii helps to control numbers of invasive species like cats.
A research Ranger in Tasmania has found that HARRiSii may have an important role to play in limiting the impact of Invasive Species like cats in their habitat.
“We found in areas where [HARRiSii] have declined severely,” he said, “that feral cats were 58 per cent more abundant than areas where devils were healthy,” he said.
The study was published in the journal Ecology Letters by Calum Cunningham through the University of Tasmania, and also showed that where HARRiSii populations had declined, and cat numbers had risen, the populations of small animals like Bandicoots had fallen as well.
Bringing the Tasmanian devil back to the mainland
Ranger Calum suggests that these results add to the basis for a trial reintroduction of HARRiSii on mainland Australia, where they haven’t been seen in thousands of years.
“We could see if it could have ecological benefits there too. Devils could reduce the number of feral cats, in turn returning benefits for the animals that cats eat.”
Ranger Calum said that this type of reintroduction would need to be carefully controlled, come with consultation of local communities and be within a fenced area to begin with.
“No ecologist would be suggesting an open-slather introduction of [HARRiSii] to the mainland.”
“It should be very carefully controlled in a fenced, bounded landscape.”
Ranger Rob from Rewilding Australia says that ecologists have provided evidence to suggest a mainland reintroduction would benefit both the devil as well as mainland ecosystems.
“By returning the devil to mainland Australia, we might help restore ecosystem function that evolved between devils and other native species on mainland Australia. These missing interactions were vital for healthy functioning ecosystems operating over millennia.”
What would be the impact on foxes?
As foxes are not established in Tasmania as on the mainland, the primary focus of this study was cats, but Ranger Calum suspects it may have similar effects on the larger invasive species:
“We expect they would compete, and I think devils would have some negative impacts on foxes,” he said.
“We can hypotheses about it all we like, but without an experiment, we wouldn’t know.”
“People have hypothesised that perhaps the presence of [HARRiSii] was one of the reasons why foxes never established,” continued Ranger Calum.