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The complex nature of the food chain – removing big predators does not protect the birds

Posted May 16, 2018

Humans always want to protect the weaker. When we see a situation in which animals are in danger, we want to fix it. Especially when we feel that it is our actions that put these animals in situation they‘re in. However, helping is never that easy. Scientists from the University of Queensland found that removing introduced predators doesn’t guarantee bird safety in Australia’s temperate forests and woodlands.

A nest of Willy wagtails in Brassall, Queensland. Image credit: Andromeda44 via Wikimedia (CC BY 3.0)

Australia has a problem with foxes eating too many nesting birds. However, scientists now are saying that reducing the number of foxes would not actually solve the problem. Smaller number of foxes would probably increase the number of cats, which also target nests. Reducing the number of cats would open the gates for black rats or mice or other smaller predators. As you might imagine, it is not actually predators that can be blamed for this bad situation. Humans introduced foxes to control the population of rodents that were eating people’s crops. And, of course, cats were introduced as pets.

Foxes don’t have that many natural predators in Australia’s temperate forests and woodlands. However, if the population of dingo was bigger, foxes would have a tougher time, because they would have to compete for food. In other words, it is people’s fault for messing up entire ecosystem, putting nesting birds at greater danger, which cannot be controlled simply by removing the main predators. And then we should not forget that people are cutting down forests dramatically.

Graham Fulton reviewed 300 scientific papers on nest predation before coming to this conclusion. He said: “Birds such as currawongs, grey butcherbirds, Australian magpies and crows have increased their range and numbers as a result of the clearing of forest and woodlands. These same birds are known predators of nestlings and eggs”.

So what can be done to protect nesting birds? Well, firstly scientists suggest researching this issue more. We have to understand the situation before trying to find the perfect solution. The author of this study suspects that part of the problem is our failure to understand the complex nature of relations between birds, their predators, and their habitats. It is all dictated by the food chain and thus we should not disrupt it much more than we already did.


Source: University of Queensland

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