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Do feral cats influence the burrowing behaviour of the greater bilby (Macrotis lagotis)?

Chen, Faith Sze-En (2021) Do feral cats influence the burrowing behaviour of the greater bilby (Macrotis lagotis)? Masters by Research thesis, Murdoch University.

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The greater bilby (Macrotis lagotis) is an ecosystem engineer, modifying the physical environment through their digging activity. Their burrows provide shelter and hunting or foraging opportunities for a variety of species. Bilbies have experienced a severe decline in abundance and are now restricted to approximately 20% of their former distribution, resulting in the species being listed as ‘Vulnerable’. This decline has been driven, in part, by predation pressure from introduced predators such as feral cats. Predators can directly impact prey species survival and may also cause a change in the behaviour of prey species as they respond to the risk of predation. We used camera traps to monitor bilby burrows at five sites in Western Australia, with varying levels of predation risk to bilbies by cats. We investigated the impact of feral cats on the behaviour of bilbies at burrows, particularly during highly vulnerable periods, while they dig and clear away soil or debris from the mouth of their burrow. We tested the effect of visitation by cats on the proportion of days a bilby was active, camera detection rate, and burrowing behaviour, the effect of different levels of predation risk (between site comparison) on bilby burrowing behaviour, and the time of night bilbies perform maintenance. We also tested if cat activity was influenced by lunar illumination. Overall, there was little evidence that bilbies avoided burrows after a visit by a feral cat; however, they reduced the time spent performing burrow maintenance in the days following a cat visit (p=0.010). Bilbies performed varying amounts of burrow maintenance, and at different times of the night between sites. Finally, cat activity at bilby burrows significantly increased with lunar illumination (p=0.010) but was not influenced by bilby camera detection rate. Our results show that bilbies in the West Kimberley are not as naïve to feral cats as previously thought.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters by Research)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Environmental and Conservation Sciences
Notes: Research Masters with Training
Supervisor(s): Fleming, Trish and Dawson, Stuart
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