Article

Causes of mortality to the endangered Southern Cassowary Casuarius casuarius johnsonii in Queensland, Australia

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Abstract

The Southern Cassowary Casuarius casuarius johnsonii is endemic to north-east Queensland, Australia, where it inhabits tropical rainforest. Of the total former cassowary habitat, only 20-25% remains, with much of this under pressure for development. The species is listed as endangered by both the Australian Commonwealth Government and the Queensland State Government. The Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (2002) estimated 1 500-2 500 adult Southern Cassowaries remain. The primary cause of the species' decline is habitat loss and fragmentation, with motor vehicle strikes and dog attacks considered major threats for local populations. The purpose of this paper, therefore, is to quantify the causes of mortality to Southern Cassowaries, including motor vehicle strikes and dog attacks, which have not previously been quantified. We obtained data for 140 cassowary deaths from the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, local government councils and persons having experiences with cassowaries. The leading cause of death for 110 cassowaries from 1986-2004 was motor vehicle strikes (55%), and the second leading cause of death was dog attacks (18%). Together, motor vehicles and dogs caused 74% of the cassowary mortalities for which the causes of death could be determined. Seventy-nine of the recorded cassowary deaths (63%) were in the Mission Beach area, suggesting this local population is under tremendous pressure. We expect cassowary numbers to continue to decline, especially in the Mission Beach area. We encourage the Commonwealth, State and relevant local governments to fully implement recovery actions. We believe the goal of conserving the Southern Cassowary and its habitat in perpetuity is attainable, but it will require public commitment and political will.

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... Vehicle collision as one source of mortality in any given sustainable population may not elicit immediate conservation concern, however, it is believed that road mortality can impact small, isolated, declining, threatened or endangered populations or species (Mumme et al. 2000, Ramsden 2003, Clancy 2004, Kofron and Chapman 2006, Glista et al. 2008. Investigating the demographic effects of, or mitigating, road mortality prior to any official change in conservation classification is worthwhile (Fajardo 2001, Jackson 2002Clancy 2004;Orlowski 2005, Boves 2007). ...
... However, even very slow speeds in protected areas can result in nocturnal bird roadkills (Jackson 2002) even though such collisions can be avoided (Jackson 2003a). Warning signs to encourage slower vehicle speeds are sometimes recommended (Kofron and Chapman 2006) but have not been shown to be effective in reducing road mortality (Huijser et al. 2007). It can also be difficult to quantify carcasses that are displaced from the roadway during high speed collisions (Erritzoe et al. 2003). ...
... Numerous vertebrate species in the region are considered pests because of their direct or indirect effects on endangered native flora and fauna, and dingoes and other wild dogs have been implicated in the decline of some native taxa (Congdon & Harrison, 2008). Native species thought to be threatened include the southern cassowary, Casuarius casuarius johnsonii (Kofron & Chapman 2006;Moore 2007), spotted-tailed quoll, Dasyurus maculatus (TSSC 2004), six marine turtles (MSSAWD 2003), and a number of shorebirds and ground-dwelling birds (Mathieson & Smith 2009;GBRMPA 2012). Dingoes have been cited as a serious threat to native taxa in the lowland Wet Tropics; however, this is primarily based on anecdotal evidence, and risk assessments which evaluate their potential impacts based on their distribution and broad biological characteristics (Congdon & Harrison, 2008). ...
... Many thousands of domestic dogs are allowed to roam unrestrained in the Wet Tropics (Morrant 2015b) and, although no study has formally assessed the numbers, it is likely that feral and free-roaming cats also number in the thousands. Domestic dogs are known to attack and kill cassowaries (Kofron 1999;Kofron & Chapman 2006), tree kangaroos, nesting marine turtles and their eggs (MSSAWD 2003), and a range of other native taxa. Cats, both feral and owned, are important predators of native animals throughout much of Australia (Barratt 1997;Kutt 2011;Doherty et al. 2015), and actively hunt in forests at night, when and where threatened taxa in the Wet Tropics are active. ...
Article
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Dingoes (Canis dingo) in the coastal lowlands of Australia's Wet Tropics are perceived as a major threat to biodiversity and subjected to broad-spectrum lethal control. However, evidence of their impacts is equivocal, and control programmes generally ignore the ecological benefits that dingoes might provide. Previous diet analysis has shown that dingoes in the Wet Tropics primarily prey on common, terrestrial mammals. However, little is known of dingo habitat use or prey acquisition in the region despite these activities having major implications for biodiversity conservation. We investigated land use by dingoes in the lowland Wet Tropics to enable predictions of potential prey types, relative prey use and modes of prey acquisition. Nine dingoes were tracked for 3–6 months. Home ranges and resting areas were estimated using multiple estimators, and habitat use was analysed using compositional analysis of habitat use and generalized additive models. Dingo ranging behaviour suggested that anthropogenic food subsidies were infrequently used. Each territory comprised several sclerophyll forest rest areas with adjacent sugarcane-grassland high activity areas. Individuals used each rest-activity area for extended durations before moving on to another. Sclerophyll and rainforests, which contain the fauna species of primary conservation concern, were generally used for rest/sleep, or movement between rest-activity areas. Activity patterns were consistent with dingoes hunting in open sugarcane-grassland habitats during daylight hours. Dingo activity was low in areas where fauna species of conservation concern occur, which suggests that dingoes do not pose a threat to their survival. Consequently, current broad-spectrum lethal control may have minimal benefits or even incur costs for biodiversity. Maximizing the ecosystem services provided by dingoes while simultaneously minimizing their negative impacts requires a more targeted location-specific management approach, one that assesses and mitigates impacts specifically where background circumstances suggest particular packs may be either a conservation or economic threat.
... Regardless of the extent of road mortality, this data in isolation does not infer negative effects on a population. Road-related fatalities may have a significant impact on isolated, declining or endangered populations, but even high rates of road mortality may not impact a healthy population (Mumme et al. 2000, Ramsden 2003, Kofron andChapman 2006, Glista et al. 2008). The time of year mortality occurs, demographics and health of individuals affected may influence the effects on a population. ...
Technical Report
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The development and expansion of road infrastructures represents one of the most widespread forms of modification of the natural landscape over the past century. Roads have altered ecosystems and directly and indirectly effect a wide range of wildlife species. One of the most obvious effects of roads on wildlife is mortality caused by vehicle collisions. Barn Owls Tyto alba, due to their low flight and hunting behaviour, are particularly susceptible. Vehicle collisions are a major cause of death for Barn Owls and have been implicated as a contributing factor in the decline of their populations in Europe. The extent of road mortality and the route and landscape characteristics which influence risk of collision have been reported for specific road systems; however, the implementation of effective and evaluated mitigation solutions to minimise negative effects of roads on Barn Owl populations remains a significant challenge. In addition to knowledge on the nature and effects of road mortality, an understanding of the individual behaviour response and interactions of Barn Owls to road networks is necessary to identify potential for evidence-based mitigation solutions. In this context, to determine Barn Owl interactions with roads in relation to mortality patterns, we investigated: (i) the extent of road mortality and factors which influence Barn Owl vehicle collisions, (ii) the suitability of roadside verges for foraging Barn Owls, (iii) the spatial distribution, occupancy and breeding performance of Barn Owls in relation to road networks, and (iv) the foraging behaviour and movement patterns of individuals in relation to major roads.
... In the wet tropical rainforests of north-eastern Australia, vehicle strike has been recorded as affecting over 100 vertebrate species (Goosem 1977). Mitigation strategies adopted in the region have either tried to influence driver behaviour through signage or reduced speed limits (Kofron and Chapman 2006), or have been informed by the biology of the target species, with rope-bridges being employed to reduce road-kill risk for small to medium arboreal mammals, such as fawn-footed melomys (Melomys cervinipes) and the Herbert River ringtail (Pseudochirulus herbertensis; Weston 2003;Weston et al. 2011), and underpasses for medium to small terrestrial mammals, such as the northern brown bandicoot (Isoodon macrourus) and red-legged pademelon (Thylogale stigmatica; Goosem 2003). However, neither option has reduced road mortality of Near Threatened Lumholtz's tree-kangaroos (Dendrolagus lumholtzi; Weston et al. 2011;Goosem 2012), whose low reproductive rate and large body size (Newell 1999a(Newell , 1999cKanowski et al. 2001;White and Ward 2010) make the species particularly vulnerable to vehicle strike (Rytwinski and Fahrig 2012). ...
Article
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Context Vehicle strike is a major issue where wildlife habitat is intersected by busy roads. Near Threatened Lumholtz's tree-kangaroo (Dendrolagus lumholtzi) is a large (5-10 kg) semi-arboreal mammal found in populated rural and forested areas of north-eastern Australia. Warning signs, rope bridges and underpasses have not prevented ∼20 animals being killed on the road each year. Aims To identify factors influencing Lumholtz's tree-kangaroo vehicle strike to help inform mitigation options. Methods Citizen sightings (1998-2000) and 90 road-kills collected over 4.5 years on the Atherton Tablelands, Australia, were examined to determine the causes of vehicle strike in Lumholtz's tree-kangaroo. The spatial distributions of sightings and road-kills were characterised using nearest-neighbour analysis, and the relationship between them was determined using a Bayesian approach that accounted for spatial autocorrelation. Gender, age, weight, season, rainfall, road and verge characteristics, traffic volumes, speed limits and mitigation measures were recorded to assess their influence on road-kill risk. Adequacy of speed limits to prevent collisions along road sections with more than four road-kills per 8 km (hazard zones) was assessed from visibility and stopping distances. Key results Vehicle strikes mainly affected male tree-kangaroos (2-5 years, 5.5-8 kg), occurred where live animals were most frequently sighted and were most likely on roads with narrow verges, low visibility and medium traffic volumes. Speed limits at hazard zones were inadequate to prevent collisions. Few warning signs corresponded with these zones, and road mortalities persisted where they did. Conclusions Unpredictable dispersal of young males and vehicle speeds unsuited to road conditions drive road mortalities in Lumholtz's tree-kangaroo. Because tree-kangaroos do not appear to respond to existing mitigation measures, reducing traffic speeds, and increasing visibility, appear to be the most effective mitigation strategies for reducing tree-kangaroo road mortality. Implications Our findings suggest that tree-kangaroo road-kill can be reduced by reducing speed limits in line with government recommendations and increasing visibility by clearing road verges along sections of road with the highest tree-kangaroo mortality. Warning signage should be re-evaluated to determine whether its effectiveness can be improved.
... There is a significant risk that the cassowary faces extinction if further habitat clearing and fragmentation continues (Kofron & Chapman, 2006). In the future the possible impacts of climate change also pose a significant threat (Williams, Bolitho, & Fox, 2003). ...
Article
The aim of this paper is to explore the potential use of the cassowary, a large colourful but threatened bird as a flagship for tourism and conservation in the Far North Queensland (FNQ) region of Australia. Demand side (push factors) and supply side (pull factors) perspectives are investigated as is the potential to transform the bird from having a comparative advantage to a competitive marketing advantage. The research reports on the results of a survey of 540 tourists that investigated the level of interest in viewing threatened animals in general, including cassowaries. The study also considers stakeholders’ perspectives based on semi-structured interviews with key industry personnel. The findings show that viewing wildlife is an important motive for visiting the FNQ region. Moreover, the findings also highlight the potential for the cassowary to act as a flagship for conservation of biodiversity in general.
... This large area of protected habitat is interspersed with other land-uses and heavily bisected by busy roads. Road impact research in the WTWHA has primarily focused on mammals and birds (e.g., Goosem 2000a, b, 2001, Goosem et al. 2006, Kofron and Chapman 2006, Wilson et al. 2007, Laurance et al. 2009). In contrast, the diverse and threatened frog fauna has received little attention, despite potentially high susceptibility to road impacts. ...
Article
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... Overwhelmingly, these studies report chasing and killing of prey by dogs, but none report eventual consumption of prey. Direct mortality is reported infrequently in the literature, but sometimes may be substantial; in addition to grounddwelling mammals and flying birds, at least one flightless bird (southern cassowary Casuarius casuarius johnsonii) and one arboreal mammal that climbs to the ground to move between trees (koala Phascolarctos cinereus), suffered dog-related losses significant enough to constitute a conservation problem (Kofron and Chapman 2006;Lunney et al. 2007). Prey include not only adult wildlife but also young and eggs (Leseberg et al. 2000). ...
Article
The presence of domestic dogs Canis familiaris in public open spaces is increasingly controversial. In our review of the literature, we located 133 publications of various types (papers, reports etc.) that examine some aspect of dogs in parks and open spaces (50 % focussed solely on dogs). There has been an exponential growth in the cumulative number of articles (R 2 = 0.96; 82 % published since 1997); almost all pertain to temperate latitudes (97 %) and most to the northern hemisphere (62 %). Most articles focus on impacts on wildlife (51 %), zoonotic diseases (17 %), and people’s perceptions regarding dogs (12 %). Articles mostly describe problems associated with dogs, while reports of low compliance with dog regulations are common. We outline six major findings regarding dogs in parks: (1) there is a paucity of information on dogs in parks, particularly in relation to their interactions with wildlife and regarding their management; (2) published studies are mainly restricted to a handful of locations in developed countries; (3) sectors of societies hold different views over the desirability of dogs in parks; (4) the benefits and risks of dogs to humans and park values are poorly documented and known; (5) dogs represent a notable disease risk in some but not all countries; and (6) coastal parks are over-represented in the literature in terms of potential negative impacts. Park managers globally require better information to achieve conservation outcomes from dog management in parks.
... In contrast, culvert underpasses tend not to be successful for the endangered Southern Cassowary (Casuarius casuarius johnsonii), with use extremely rare in comparison with crossings via the road surface nearby , although higher bridge underpasses are more attractive to the bird. Other strategies including speed reduction on regional roads and highway bridges over the rainforest canopy (Environment North and Biotropica 2009) are necessary to reduce potentially unsustainable regional road mortality in the species (Kofron & Chapman 2006;Goosem et al. 2011). ...
Article
Summary Research into mitigation of the ecological impacts of rainforest roads in North Queensland has a long history, commencing during the formative years of Australian road ecology. In Queensland’s Wet Tropics and throughout Australia, installation of engineered structures to ameliorate ecological road impacts is now common during larger construction projects, but unusual in smaller road projects. Retro‐fitting of engineering solutions to roads that are causing obvious impacts is also uncommon. Currently, Australian mitigation measures concentrate on two important impacts: road mortality and terrestrial habitat fragmentation. Unfortunately, other important ecological impacts of roads are seldom addressed. These include edge effects, traffic disturbance, exotic invasions and fragmentation of stream habitats. In North Queensland, faunal underpasses and canopy bridges across rainforest roads have been monitored over long periods. These structures are used frequently by multiple individuals of various species, implying effectiveness for movements and dispersal of many generalist and specialised rainforest animals. However, without addressing population and genetic implications, assessment of effectiveness of these connectivity structures is not holistic. These aspects need sufficient long‐term funding to allow similar systematic monitoring before and after construction. Throughout Australia, more holistic approaches to mitigation of road impacts would routinely examine population and genetic connectivity, consider mitigation against more ecological impacts where appropriate and include landscape‐scale replication.
Technical Report
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