Scientists say bringing back Tasmanian devils to the mainland could help stop the spread of red foxes and feral cats in habitats where dingoes have been culled.
The carnivorous marsupials once lived across the Australian mainland but went extinct about 3,000 years ago, likely as a consequence of being hunted by dingoes.
Dingo culls to protect livestock have shifted the ecological balance, paving the way for imported foxes and feral cats to wreak havoc with native mammals.
Ecologists from University of NSW have assessed the impact of reintroducing Tasmanian devils to forest ecosystems in south-eastern parts of New South Wales.
“There are large areas where the dingo is gone and we need a predator who can suppress fox numbers,” says PhD candidate Daniel Hunter.
“The devil is the obvious answer. It doesn’t pose as serious a risk to livestock, and it has played a major role in stopping foxes from establishing a foothold in Tasmania.”
Hunter is the lead author of a study published in the journal Biological Conservation which highlights the potential benefits of using the devil as a replacement apex predator.
The researchers suspect that Tasmanian devils help control fox and cat populations by directly attacking them and their young.
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