How can we improve the protection of our native mammals?

We explore this question in an article published today in The Conversation.

To read the full article titled “Mourn our lost mammals, while helping the survivors battle back ” click HERE


Gone from this earth: Four of the 30 Australian mammal species that have gone extinct since European settlement. The desert rat-kangaroo (top left), the eastern hare-wallaby (top right), the white-footed rabbit-rat (bottom left), and the pig-footed bandicoot (bottom right).


Carnivore coexistence: trophic cascades. A reply to Chapron et al.

G. Chapron et al. recently published a compelling case that large carnivores and people can successfully share the same landscape.

They do so by highlighting that Europe now has stable or increasing populations of brown bears, Eurasian lynx, gray wolves and wolverines in human-dominated landscapes. They attribute this success to protective legislation, supportive public opinion and a variety of practices making coexistence between large carnivores and people possible.

In a reply to the article (published today), William Ripple and I argue that the conclusions of Chapron et al. are a beginning, not an end, to an inquiry into the possibilities and implications of coexistence.

We argue that a successful model of coexistence will need to achieve not merely the fact of coexistence, but one which preserves to the greatest extent possible the critical role played by large carnivores on ecosystem processes.

You can view the article HERE (subscription required)



We made it!

A huge thanks to everyone who donated and supported our crowd funding campaign.

We met our goal and successfully raised $12,455.

The donations will assist with the costs of aerial capturing deer via helicopter this coming winter.

We had 95 donors, which means the average donation was around $130. This is extremely generous and we even had three donors give $1500, which provided a huge boost to our campaign.

If you would like to follow our research you can join the Facebook group called Washington Wolf Project.

Alternatively, the Predator Ecology Lab at the University of Washington now have an active blog.

The crowd funding team (from left to right): Apryle Craig, Thomas Newsome, Justin Dellinger, Aaron Wirsing, Carolyn Shores

The crowd funding team (from left to right): Apryle Craig, Thomas Newsome, Justin Dellinger, Aaron Wirsing, Carolyn Shores.

Special journal issue on arid zone science

Alan Newsome with red kangaroo in central Australia

Alan Newsome with red kangaroo

This week the journal Historical Records of Australian Science launched a special issue exploring sciences contribution to the understanding of the arid interior of Australia.

My contribution came though an article summarising the early research on the red kangaroo and the dingo.

You will note from my title, Makings of Icons: Alan Newsome, the Red Kangaroo and the Dingo, that my contribution is a rather personal piece.

Below is a copy of the abstract and link to the journal web page.


The red kangaroo (Macropus rufus) and the dingo (Canis dingo) are two of Australia’s iconic mammals. Both are ingrained in the national psyche and well known internationally. For the red kangaroo, recognition has come despite the fact that the highest densities of the species occur well away from most of the human population. The dingo has achieved its status despite being present on the continent for perhaps as little as 3,000 years. This article considers the question of how, and why, these two animals became so elevated in the popular imagination and the scientific literature. It is a story of both the integers and consequences of scientific research, a story best told with a particular focus on the contribution made by one individual. Alan Newsome changed our understanding of the interactions between agriculture, introduced species and native wildlife, and was one of the first to understand the possibilities of enriching western science with Indigenous knowledge. He was a pioneer in explaining—particularly by reference to the red kangaroo in central Australia—the remarkable story of how Australian wildlife has adapted to survive some of the harshest conditions on the planet. His work across the landscape of the arid zone has had profound implications for management and conservation in Australia. This, then, is the story of three icons: the red kangaroo, the dingo and Alan Newsome.


We are almost there!

On the 15th October 2014 I posted a blog outlining an exciting crowd funding campaign led by the Predator Ecology Lab at the University of Washington.

The goal of the campaign is to raise $12,000 to help fund research that is assessing the impacts of recolonising wolves on other carnivores, deer populations and plants.

We have been overwhelmed by the support so far, but we haven’t met our goal.

We are currently 81% funded, which means we have 6 days to raise approximately $2,300.

You can help by donating here or by simply sharing the link below with as many friends as possible over the next 6 days.

Hopefully the title of my next blog will be “We made it!”.

Snow-shoeing in Yellowstone

Thanks for your support!

Crowdfunding Wolf Research: The Impact of Wolves in the American West


In collaboration with the University of Washington Predator Ecology Lab we are launching an online crowdfunding effort.

Led by Professor Aaron Wirsing, we hope to raise $12,000 US to fund radio collaring deer as part of an ongoing wolf study.

Our goal is to better understand how the return of these top predators to Washington may impact other carnivores, deer populations, and perhaps even plants.

To visit our campaign page and see our promotional video click here.

Please share our campaign page with as many friends as possible!

Feeding the beasts

Polar Bears marked with numbers scavenge on the rubbish dump outside Churchill, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo credit B & C Alexander /

(Photo credit B & C Alexander /

Predators often have important roles in structuring ecosystems via their effects on each other and on prey populations. However, there is growing concern that the ecological roles of predators will be altered when they access readily available food provided by humans.

The key issue here is that 1 billion metric tonnes of food produced for humans each year is lost or wasted. Even in developing regions where food shortages exist, 44% of food produced for human consumption is lost in production, storage and transport, while consumers also waste large quantities of edible foods.

Frequently, this waste food is dumped or discarded so that it is easily accessed by wildlife, particularly in areas where there are high human densities or relaxed environmental policies. For example, large quantities of human food scraps are often discarded in unfenced rubbish dumps or left to rot around townships.

On top of this, in Africa and Asia alone, over 10 million tonnes of cattle carcasses are unused and discarded each year. High livestock mortality rates mean that millions of carcasses are left to rot in the field, while vast quantities of resource subsidies are available as crops. Urban settlements also continue to expand rapidly, adding to the expanses of modified landscapes where resource availability is regulated by human activities.

Dingoes scavenge at a waste facility

A predator using a resource subsidy: dingoes scavenging at a rubbish dump

In a recent paper published in Global Ecology and Biogeography, we quantified the ecological effects of providing resource subsidies to terrestrial mammalian predators (greater than 1 kg in body size) by reviewing published studies on the topic across the globe.

Overall, our review included data from 129 published studies. Seventy percent of the studies were published after 2000, indicating that predator access to human-provided foods is an emerging research topic. The review included 36 different predator species from 34 countries across all continents.

The most prominently featured predators were grey wolves, dingoes, coyotes, red foxes, golden jackals and domestic dogs. Over 50% of the studies came from four countries: the United States (N = 29), Australia (N = 24), India (N = 13) and Israel (N = 9).

Geographic distribution and number of studies included in the review

In the presence of the resource subsidies we found that (i) predator abundance generally increased, (ii) the dietary preferences of predators altered to include the food subsidy, (iii) life history parameters such as survival, reproduction and sociality shifted to the benefit or detriment of the predator, and (iv) predators changed their home ranges, activity and movements. In some instances, these modifications negatively affected other species via increased predation or competition.

A few of the papers we reviewed are worthy of highlighting.

One study compared coyote density across a gradient of anthropogenic food availability and found an eight-fold increase in coyote density in the most human-developed area.

Another study found that black bears exploit highly predictable waste foods by forming social aggregations and tolerating other bears around rubbish dumps.

In South-America free-roaming domestic dogs, subsidised by humans, were shown to be efficient at chasing and harassing a threatened deer species.

An influx of free-roaming dogs in Israel was found to be a major factor causing decreased recruitment of mountain gazelles.

We also found evidence for subsidy-driven prey switching behaviours. Most notable was the study demonstrating that spotted hyenas increase predation on donkeys when the availability of urban and rural waste declines during Christian fasting periods.

Surprisingly, despite the many studies demonstrating that the largest predators included in our review frequently eat livestock, this food source comprised only 17% of their diet on average. However, this may reflect the high risks associated with taking livestock such as persecution by humans, with many studies in our review indicating that even when predators use livestock, they alter their behaviour to avoid humans.

Taken together, the changes to food web interactions that we documented in our review highlight that many countries, even those technologically advanced, are addressing inadequately the problems associated with predator access to resource subsidies.

Additionally, it is clear that predators frequently utilise human-provided foods, and that the ecological effects appear to be mostly negative.

Conceptual framework depicting the potential changes to food-webs when predators access human-provided resource subsidies. Solid lines are direct effects and dotted lines are indirect effects. Subsidies result in changes to space-use, life history parameters, diet and density of predators. These responses may indirectly affect co-occurring predators and prey.

The potential changes to food web interactions when predators access human-provided foods. Solid lines are direct effects and dotted lines are indirect effects. Subsidies result in changes to space-use, life history parameters, diet and density of predators. These responses may indirectly affect co-occurring predators and prey.

In a world where human activities are continually expanding, it is crucial that humans change the way in which their waste and resources are managed in order to minimise the access of predators to these rich resource subsidies.

A key step to achieving this goal is to reduce the amount of edible food that is lost or wasted by humans.

A co-benefit of this strategy is that it may help to solve global food security problems, with roughly 1 in 8 people lacking access to sufficient food. It may also slow down the rate at which land is being converted to agriculture, which is arguably one of the biggest threats to biodiversity across the globe.


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