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Invasive predators and global biodiversity loss
Tim S. Doherty
, Alistair S. Glen
, Dale G. Nimmo
, Euan G. Ritchie
, and Chris R. Dickman
Centre for Integrative Ecology, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Deakin University, Geelong, VIC 3216, Australia;
Centre for Ecosystem
Management, School of Natural Sciences, Edith Cowan University, Joondalup, WA 6027, Australia;
Landcare Research, Auckland 1072, New Zealand;
Institute for Land, Water and Society, School of Environmental Science, Charles Sturt University, Albury, NSW 2640, Australia; and
Research Group, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia
Edited by Daniel S. Simberloff, The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN, and approved July 20, 2016 (received for review February 12, 2016)
Invasive species threaten biodiversity globally, and invasive mam-
malian predators are particularly damaging, having contributed to
considerable species decline and extinction. We provide a global
metaanalysis of these impacts and reveal their full extent. Invasive
predators are implicated in 87 bird, 45 mammal, and 10 reptile
species extinctions—58% of these groups’contemporary extinc-
tions worldwide. These figures are likely underestimated because
23 critically endangered species that we assessed are classed as
“possibly extinct.”Invasive mammalian predators endanger a fur-
ther 596 species at risk of extinction, with cats, rodents, dogs,
and pigs threatening the most species overall. Species most at risk
from predators have high evolutionary distinctiveness and inhabit
insular environments. Invasive mammalian predators are therefore
important drivers of irreversible loss of phylogenetic diversity
worldwide. That most impacted species are insular indicates that
management of invasive predators on islands should be a global
conservation priority. Understanding and mitigating the impact of
invasive mammalian predators is essential for reducing the rate of
global biodiversity loss.
Invasive mammalian predators (“invasive predators”hereafter)
are arguably the most damaging group of alien animal species
for global biodiversity (1–3). Species such as cats (Felis catus),
rats (Rattus rattus), mongoose (Herpestes auropunctatus), and
stoats (Mustela erminea) threaten biodiversity through predation
(4, 5), competition (6), disease transmission (7), and facilitation
with other invasive species (8). The decline and extinction of
native species due to invasive predators can have impacts that
cascade throughout entire ecosystems (9). For example, pre-
dation by feral cats and red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) has led to the
decline or extinction of two thirds of Australia’s digging mammal
species over the past 200 y (10, 11). Reduced disturbance to
topsoil in the absence of digging mammals has led to impoverished
landscapes where little organic matter accumulates and rates of
seed germination are low (10). In the Aleutian archipelago, pre-
dation of seabirds by introduced Arctic foxes (Alopex lagopus)has
lowered nutrient input and soil fertility, ultimately causing vege-
tation to transform from grasslands to dwarf shrub/forb-dominated
Mitigating the negative impacts of invasive mammalian pred-
ators is a primary goal of conservation agencies worldwide (1, 13,
14). Regardless, there remains no global synthesis of the role of
invasive predators in species declines and extinctions (but see
refs. 3 and 15). Here, we quantify the number of bird, mammal,
and reptile species threatened by, or thought to have become
extinct (since AD 1500) due to, invasive mammalian predators.
We use metaanalysis to examine taxonomic and geographic
trends in these impacts and show how the severity of predator
impacts varies according to species endemicity and evolutionary
Results and Discussion
In total, 596 threatened and 142 extinct species (total 738) have
suffered negative impacts from 30 species of invasive mammalian
predators from 13 families and eight orders. These species
include three canids, seven mustelids, five rodents, two procyo-
nids, three viverrids, two primates, two marsupials, two mon-
gooses, and single representatives from four other families, with
60% from the order Carnivora (Table S1). The 738 impacted
species consist of 400 bird species from 78 families, 189 mammal
species from 45 families, and 149 reptile species from 26 families
(Dataset S1). Invasive mammalian predators emerge as causal
factors in the extinction of 87 bird, 45 mammal, and 10 reptile
species, which equates to 58% of modern bird, mammal, and reptile
species extinctions globally (including those species classed as “ex-
tinct in the wild”). Invasive predators also threaten 596 species
classed as “vulnerable”(217 species), “endangered”(223), or “criti-
cally endangered”(156), of which 23 are classed as “possibly extinct.”
To assess the comparative severity of predator impacts, we
assigned each of 1,439 predator-threatened species cases a value
of either 0.25 (secondary cause of species decline), 0.75 (primary
cause of species decline), or 1.0 (species extinction attributed to
the predator), and we weighted these values by the strength of
evidence available, drawing on a total of 996 supporting references
(Methods). The severity of predator impacts and the strength of
evidence supporting them [the inverse of the width of confidence
intervals (CIs)] was higher for bird and mammal species compared
with reptile species (Fig. 1).
Rodents are linked to the extinction of 75 species (52 bird, 21
mammal, and 2 reptile species; 30% of all extinctions) and cats
to 63 extinctions (40, 21, and 2 species, respectively; 26%)
whereas red foxes, dogs (Canis familiaris), pigs (Sus scrofa), and
small Indian mongoose (H. auropunctatus) are implicated in 9–11
extinctions each (Fig. 2). For all threatened and extinct species
combined, cats and rodents threaten similar numbers of species
(430 and 420 species, respectively), followed by dogs (156 spe-
cies), pigs (140 species), mongoose (83 species), red foxes (48
species), stoats (30 species) (Fig. 2), and the remaining predators
Invasive mammalian predators are arguably the most damag-
ing group of alien animal species for global biodiversity. Thirty
species of invasive predator are implicated in the extinction or
endangerment of 738 vertebrate species—collectively contrib-
uting to 58% of all bird, mammal, and reptile extinctions. Cats,
rodents, dogs, and pigs have the most pervasive impacts, and
endemic island faunas are most vulnerable to invasive preda-
tors. That most impacted species are insular indicates that
management of invasive predators on islands should be a
global conservation priority. Understanding and mitigating the
impact of invasive mammalian predators is essential for re-
ducing the rate of global biodiversity loss.
Author contributions: T.S.D., A.S.G., D.G.N., E.G.R., and C.R.D. designed research; T.S.D.
and A.S.G. performed research; T.S.D. analyzed data; and T.S.D., A.S.G., D.G.N., E.G.R., and
C.R.D. wrote the paper.
The authors declare no conflict of interest.
This article is a PNAS Direct Submission.
To whom correspondence should be addressed. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article contains supporting information online at www.pnas.org/lookup/suppl/doi:10.
www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1602480113 PNAS Early Edition
(range 1–14 species). The lower number of species impacted by
some predators, such as red foxes and stoats, reflects the limited
number of locations in which these predators have established
alien populations (16). The frequency of impacted species in each
taxonomic class differed among predators (χ
0.001). Cats, rodents, and stoats threaten more bird than mammal
or reptile species whereas red foxes threaten more mammal
species (Fig. 2). Dogs threaten fewer reptile species, and pigs and
mongoose threaten fewer mammal species, compared with other
taxonomic classes (Fig. 2). Although cats and rodents negatively
affect the most bird species, birds experience similar impact
across predator species (Fig. 3). Mammals experience lower, but
more variable, impacts from pigs and stoats compared with the
other predators (Fig. 3). The greatest impact on reptile species is
from stoats, and the lowest from foxes (no impact) and pigs (Fig.
3). The “significance”of differing relationships between invasive
predators and impacted species classes is uncertain, however,
because confidence intervals overlapped in most cases.
Central America (including the Caribbean) has experienced
the most extinctions (33 species), followed by Micro-/Mela-/
Polynesia (25), Australia (21), the Madagascar region (20), New
Zealand (15), and Hawaii (11), with the remaining regions having
0–7 species extinctions each (Fig. 4). The taxonomy of impacted
species varied among regions, with the highest numbers of im-
pacted mammal species occurring in Australia and Central
America, and most of the impacted reptile species occurring in
Micro-/Mela-/Polynesia and Central America (Fig. 4). Most im-
pacted bird species are in Micro-/Mela-/Polynesia, New Zealand,
the Madagascar region, Central America, and Hawaii (Fig. 4).
Insular endemics accounted for 87% of extinct species (124
species) and 81% of the sum of all threatened/extinct species
(601 species). The proportions of total threatened/extinct species
that were insular endemics varied between taxonomic classes
=117.29, P<0.001; birds 90%, mammals 55%, reptiles
91%). Insular endemic reptile species were more negatively af-
fected by invasive mammalian predators than continental species,
whereas mammal and bird species experienced similar impacts
between the two groups (Fig. 1). If Australia is reclassified as an
island, insular endemic mammals experience more severe predator
impacts than continental species (Fig. S1). We sourced evolu-
tionary distinctiveness scores from published databases (Methods)
to show that species negatively affected by invasive predators were
more evolutionarily distinct than “nonimpacted”species for both
bird (t=3.32, P=0.001) and mammal species (t=3.31, P=0.001)
Although it is often stated that invasive predators have con-
tributed to many modern extinctions (1, 2, 11, 17), our findings
reveal the magnitude and pervasiveness of their impacts and link
them to the majority (58%) of modern bird, mammal, and reptile
species extinctions. This figure is likely an underestimate because
23 critically endangered species negatively affected by invasive
predators are currently classed as possibly extinct. Evolutionarily
distinct species are most affected, meaning that invasive preda-
tors are drivers of irreversible loss of global phylogenetic di-
versity, affecting both mainland and island-endemic species.
Introduced rodents and cats are major agents of extinction,
collectively being listed as causal factors in 44% of modern bird,
mammal, and reptile species extinctions. We pooled the impacts
of rodents across five species, but previous studies indicate that
R. rattus has negatively affected the most species, followed by
Rattus norvegicus and Rattus exulans (18–20). The role of the
house mouse (Mus musculus) is less well understood, but there is
emerging evidence of severe predatory impacts on insular sea-
bird (21) and lizard species (22). We found that cats, rodents,
dogs, and pigs have had the most pervasive effects across regions
and taxonomic classes, supporting recent work by Bellard et al.
(3), who identified these four taxa as the invasive species af-
fecting the greatest number of threatened vertebrates globally,
after chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis). However,
other predators have had large impacts in particular regions;
stoats remain a major threat to New Zealand bird and reptile
species (23), and the red fox, along with the feral cat, is an im-
portant driver of Australian mammal species extinctions (11).
Fewer reptile species were negatively affected by invasive
mammalian predators, compared with bird and mammal species.
Reptiles also had a lower average impact score, which may be
because reptiles are less studied than birds and mammals (9),
with only 40% of the world’s reptiles having been assessed for the
Red List thus far (compared with ∼99% for birds and mammals)
(24). Further insights will likely emerge once the conservation
status of most reptiles has been determined. Detailed studies
from individual regions nonetheless demonstrate that invasive
predators can have severe impacts on local reptile assemblages
Birds Mammals Reptiles
Fig. 1. Model-estimated severity of impact of invasive predators on birds,
mammals, and reptiles for all species combined (Total), insular endemics
(Insular), and species found on continents (Continental). Error bars are 90%
confidence intervals. Model estimates and confidence intervals are weighted
by the strength of evidence available. See Table S5 for model estimates.
BMR BMR BMR BMR BMR BMR BMR
Number of extinct
and threatened species
Fig. 2. Numbers of threatened and extinct bird (B), mammal (M), and reptile (R) species negatively affected by invasive mammalian predators. Gray bars are
the total number of extinct and threatened species, and red bars are extinct species (including those classed as extinct in the wild). Predators affecting <15
species are not shown here. Predators (L to R) are the cat, rodents, dog, pig, small Indian mongoose, red fox, and stoat.
www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1602480113 Doherty et al.
(e.g., ref. 25). Evolutionary exposure to native mammalian
predators might moderate such effects; few Australian reptiles
are threatened by cat and fox predation whereas more than 100
reptile species in the Caribbean/Central America and Micro-/
Mela-/Polynesia are threatened with extinction by rodents, cats,
pigs, dogs, and mongoose (25, 26).
Insular regions are most affected by invasive predators, and
insular endemic reptile species, but not bird and mammal species,
are more heavily affected than continental species. This last
finding contrasts with Blackburn et al. (13), who reported such an
effect for birds, as did Medina et al. (1) for all three taxonomic
classes. The difference in our results could arise because both
previous studies assessed insular species only and used individual
populations (species ×island) as the experimental unit whereas
we assessed all species across their entire geographic ranges. The
isolation of many islands and a lack of natural predators mean
that insular species often lack appropriate defensive traits, thus
making them naive to the threat of invasive predators (9, 27). The
high extinction rates of ground-dwelling birds in Hawaii (28) and
New Zealand (29)—both of which lack native mammalian
predators—are cases in point.
That most impacted species are insular indicates that man-
agement of invasive predators on islands should be a global
conservation priority. Given the many islands on which invasive
predators occur and the high costs involved in controlling or
eradicating them, prioritization of islands for eradications is an
important exercise (30–33). Facilitation between multiple in-
vasive species (e.g., rodents providing abundant food for cats,
thus maintaining high densities of the latter) can exacerbate their
respective impacts on native species (1, 9). Thus, it is essential
that eradications adopt a whole-ecosystem approach to avoid the
ecological release of undesirable species (5, 34). Modeling can
help determine the order in which multiple species should be
eradicated (35) and how best to allocate resources (36). On
continents or large islands where eradications are difficult, al-
ternative approaches are needed, such as predator-proof fencing
(37), improved land management (38, 39), restoration of top
predators (40, 41), and lethal control (42).
Although we have documented the comparative severity of
impacts of invasive mammalian predators, we note that the
strength of evidence available to quantify predator impacts was
often low (Dataset S1), particularly for reptile species. While
invasive predators are named as causal factors in large numbers
StH, Asc, TdC
St Paul Islands
Number of extinct species
Total number of extinct and threatened species
Fig. 4. Numbers of threatened and extinct bird, mammal, and reptile species impacted by invasive predators in 17 regions (Fig. S3 and Table S2). Gray bars
represent the total number of extinct and threatened species, and red bars represent the number of extinct species (including those classed as extinctinthe
wild). StH, Asc, and TdC indicate the islands of St. Helena, Ascension, and Tristan da Cunha, respectively.
Birds Mammals Reptiles
Fig. 3. Severity of model-estimated impacts of invasive predator species on birds, mammals, and reptiles. Error bars are 90% confidence intervals. Model
estimates and confidence intervals are weighted by the strength of evidence available. See Table S5 for model estimates. To aid visual interpretation across all
estimates, the error bars for the effects of pigs and stoats on mammals are truncated at the limits of the yaxis, but the values can be found in Table S5.
Doherty et al. PNAS Early Edition
of extinctions and as key threats to many threatened species, the
lack of strong evidence suggests that there remains an urgent
need for research on the impacts of invasive predators relative to
other threats (e.g., habitat loss). Teasing apart the impacts of
different threatening processes is challenging for extinct species
and for those that have suffered historical declines, have small
populations, and/or inhabit remote islands but should be more
feasible for many other threatened species. Understanding and
mitigating the impact of invasive mammalian predators is es-
sential for reducing the rate of global biodiversity loss.
Data Collation. For all threatened species in the taxonomic classes Aves,
Mammalia, and Reptilia, we downloaded data on taxonomy and conserva-
tion status from the International Union for Conservation of Nature and
Natural Resources (IUCN) Red List in December 2014 (version 2014.3) using
the inbuilt search and export functions (n=3,745 species) (Dataset S2). We
did not assess amphibians here because our preliminary research indicated
that the invasive predators impacting them are mostly nonmammalian (e.g.,
snakes, fish, crayfish, and other amphibians). Threatened species were those
listed as vulnerable, endangered, critically endangered, extinct, or extinct in
the wild. We then used a custom R script (Dataset S3) to download addi-
tional Red List information on each species’range and major threats.
We filteredthis database (n=3,745 species) in Microsoft Accessby searching
the “major threats”section for any of the following keywords: predator*,
predation, cat, cats, fox*, dog, dogs, rat, rats, rodent*, Rattus,mouse,mice,
stoat*, mongoose*, pig, pigs, mink, ferret*, weasel*, mustelid*, possum*,
macaque*, coati*, and civet*. These predators were chosen based on consul-
tation of the Global Invasive Species Database (43) and Long (16). This search
returned 771 records, which we inspected to determine whether invasive alien
predators were identified as a known or likely threat to each species (n=703
species identified as negatively impacted by invasive predators). We cross-
checked this list against previous reviews (1, 18, 20, 44–48) and added 35 ad-
ditional threatened species recorded as being negatively affected by invasive
predators, but not revealed in our Red List search. Given the small number of
additional species identified and the broad geographic coverage of the pre-
vious studies used for cross-checking, we do not consider that this exercise
brings any systematic bias to our analyses.
For each of the 738 study species, we recorded information on taxonomic
classification (class, order, family), Red List status, insularity (insular endemic
or found on continents also), and region (Fig. S3 and Table S2). Information
on species distributions was sourced primarily from the Red List although
other sources were consulted in a small number of cases. For the analyses,
we included in the extinct category four species classed as extinct in the wild.
To find information on the impact of invasive predators on each of the
study species, we initially searched the Red List and Scopus database for
relevant material using species names and synonyms, followed by consul-
tation of primary and gray literature cited therein. We defined impact as any
inference that an invasive predator had caused a decline in the abundance or
distribution of a species. In most cases, predation was inferred as the primary
mechanism of predator impacts although competition, disease transmission,
and habitat disturbance were also cited in some cases. For accounts that
referred only to “introduced/invasive predators”and not a specific species,
we assigned the impact to a generic predator group. We took any reference
to “domestic predators/carnivores/pets”to mean cats (F. catus) and dogs
(C. familiaris). We did not distinguish the impacts of individual rodent species
because many accounts did not provide sufficient information to allow dis-
crimination of individual species effects and because the relative impacts of
the different rodent species have been reviewed elsewhere (18–20, 49, 50).
Given the difficulties in attributing causation in species declines and ex-
tinctions, most inferences regarding the impact of invasive predators were
based on observational evidence, rather than experimental data. For this
reason, we used a similarapproach to that of previous studies(1, 19) and coded
the degree of predator impacts as follows: mixed (0.25, when the predator
was a secondary cause of species decline); high (0.75, when the predator was a
primary cause of species decline); and strong (1.0, when the extinction of the
species was attributed to the predator). Unlike previous studies (1, 19), how-
ever, we did not include a “nil impact”level (e.g., 0.01) because such in-
formation is not systematically reported in the literature. Other threats may
have contributed to the species’declines/extinctions although assessing their
relative importance was beyond the scope of this study. We assessed species
across their entire geographic ranges and thus did not code predator impacts
for individual populations (e.g., multiple islands). This exercise was con-
ducted between March and September 2015, and it revealed 1,381 individual
predator-threatened species cases, plus an additional 58 cases where the
predator species were not named. The 996 references supporting the
rankings are listed in Dataset S4.
Statistical Analyses. We first summarized numbers of extinct and threatened
species impacted by invasive predators, based on taxonomic classes and
geographic regions where they occur, or occurred. We then used meta-
analysis in the metafor package version 1.9-6 in R version 3.1.2 (51, 52) to
analyze these trends based on three categorical variables: (i) taxonomic class
model (levels: Aves, Mammalia, Reptilia); (ii ) insularity model [levels: insular
endemic, or continental (either wholly or partially)]; and (iii) predator model
[levels: rodent (Rodentia), cat, dog, red fox (V. vulpes), stoat (M. erminea),
small Indian mongoose (H. auropunctatus), and pig (S. scrofa)].
For the predator model, we excluded 19 predator species that impacted
fewer than 15 threatened species each (range 30–430 threatened species
impacted by each of the seven remaining predators). We conducted separate
tests for each of these variables using the restricted maximum-likelihood
estimator. We pooled impacts across all predators for the taxonomic class
and insularity models; if a threatened species was impacted by multiple
predators, we used the highest impact and its associated weight. For ex-
ample, if a bird species was impacted by both cats (impact =0.75, weight =
10) and rodents (impact =0.25, weight =100), we used the former pair of
values for the pooled category, which means that the models estimate the
strongest predator impacts across taxonomic classes and insularity. To ex-
amine individual responses of the three taxonomic classes, we conducted
separate analyses for birds, mammals, and reptiles across insular endemism
and predators. The response variable was the impact rankings described
above, such that higher effect sizes represented greater predator impacts.
We inferred “significant”effects where the 90% confidence intervals of the
different predictor variable levels did not overlap. Data used in the analyses
are available as Dataset S1 (see also Table S3).
Metaanalysis traditionally weights effect sizes based on each study’s
sample variance and/or size. However, these data do not exist for our da-
tabase because each case consists of a predator ×threatened species com-
bination that is assigned a categorical level of impact. Instead, we used a
weighting system similar to that of Jones et al. (19) and Medina et al. (1) that
weights individual cases based on the type and strength of evidence pro-
vided in each case. Assigned weights were as follows: 1 (lowest: no evidence
provided apart from stating that the predator is thought to be a cause of
species decline or extinction), 10 (single line of correlative evidence), 100
(multiple lines of correlative evidence), or 1,000 (highest: experimental evi-
dence in a before–after and/or control–impact design). We used the inverse
of the weights as the variance component in the metaanalysis. Examples of
correlative evidence included artificial nest experiments, correlation be-
tween species decline and predator introduction, absence of a species from
parts of its historical range now inhabited by predators, monitoring of
predation events, and analysis of predator diet. Examples of experimental
evidence included monitoring of population parameters in response to
predator removal, and comparison of islands with and without predators.
The weights were assigned during the impact ranking exercise described
above. We conducted a fail-safe analysis to determine the number of cases
showing no effect that would be needed to eliminate a significant overall
effect size (SI Text). We also conducted a sensitivity analysis to determine
how the selection of impact values and the use of weights influenced the
results (SI Text and Figs. S4 and S5).
We used χ
analyses to determine (i) whether the proportion of impacted
species that were insular endemics varied among taxonomic classes and (ii )
whether the proportion of impacted species in each taxonomic class differed
among predators. We restricted the second analysis to those seven predators
included in the predator model described above. Significant effects were
inferred at the 0.05 level.
Evolutionary Distinctiveness. We used evolutionary distinctiveness (ED) scores
to examine whether invasive predators have had a disproportionate impact
on evolutionarily distinct species. ED scores were calculated based on the “fair
proportion”metric: i.e., the weighted sum of branch lengths along phylo-
genetic tree roots to tips, with weights based on the number of tips sharing
that branch (see refs. 53–55 for detailed descriptions). This analysis was re-
stricted to extant birds (53) and mammals (54, 55) because data limitations
currently prevent ED scores being calculated for reptiles and extinct taxa
from all classes. We used general linear models to compare the ED scores of
the impacted species against threatened species for which invasive predators
were not identified as a threat (“nonimpacted”species hereafter). We used
a gamma error distribution because the data were positive, continuous,
and skewed. Significant effects were inferred at the 0.05 level. Taxonomic
www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1602480113 Doherty et al.
differences between the Red List version 2014.3 and the source databases
(53, 55) are detailed in Table S4. Because ED scores were not available for
extinct species, the values presented here are likely to be an underestimate
of the true effect sizes.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS. The IUCN and its many contributors are acknowl-
edged for maintaining the Red List, which provided information on species
taxonomy, sta tus, threats, and range. Grant Williamson is thanked for
writing and testing the custom R script. Comments from Corey Bradshaw,
Chris Johnson, and three anonymous reviewers greatly improved earlier
versions of this manuscript. T.S.D. was supported by scholarships from Edith
Cowan University and Earthwatch Institute Australia during the initial stages
of this study, and C.R.D. by a fellowship from the Australian Research
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