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Feeling the pressure at home: Predator activity at the burrow entrance of an endangered arid‐zone skink

Moore, Danae, Kearney, Michael Ray, Paltridge, Rachel, McAlpin, Steve, Stow, Adam
Austral ecology 2018 v.43 no.1 pp. 102-109
biodiversity, burrows, cats, dingoes, feces, feral animals, fires, foxes, habitats, invasive species, predation, predators, snakes, vegetation cover
Habitat modification and invasive species are among the most important contemporary drivers of biodiversity loss. These two threatening processes are often studied independently and few studies have focused on how they interact to influence species declines. Here we assess the predation pressure placed on the threatened great desert skink (Liopholis kintorei) and how this interacts with fire‐induced habitat modifications. We collected daily track data of potential predators for 1 month at 30 great desert skink burrow‐systems where vegetation cover varied significantly after experimental burns. We used these data to evaluate potential predation pressure at the burrow‐system and assess whether fire influenced predator pressure. We supplemented this analysis by documenting predation via the inspection of large mammalian predator scats collected from great desert skink habitat. The level of feral cat activity at a burrow‐system entrance was significantly higher than that of any other potential predator, however fire had no effect on the visitation rates of feral cats, dingoes or large snakes to great desert skink burrow‐systems. The remains of great desert skink were found significantly more frequently in feral cat scats, compared to fox and dingo scats. We provide the first direct evidence that feral cats are a significant predator for great desert skink, thus supporting the hypothesis that feral cat predation is a key threatening process. Feral cat activity was not influenced by small‐scale experimental burns, however, this does not preclude an effect of larger scale fires and we recommend further research exploring this possible interaction.