Thank you for nominating and voting for me as President at the last AWMS meeting in New Zealand. It is an honour, and I trust that I can meet your expectations.
These are challenging times for Australasian wildlife management. Every John Woinarski publication pushes up the percentage of Australian native mammals that have been added to the extinction list, while the invasive predator numbers mount in New Zealand. Australia and New Zealand are responsible for the stewardship of extraordinary endemic vertebrate fauna, and yet our current levels of funding are several orders of magnitude below what is needed. Australia is listed as one of the 40 most severely underfunded countries across the globe in terms of conservation money, an extremely troubling result for a “nature-conscious, developed country with a treasure trove of biodiversity” (Waldron 2013). Federal and State Government have specific political and economic agendas in allocating funding. We are therefore challenged with a need to develop smarter technology for invasive species management, reassess conservation priorities, while we ensure that we maintain vigil on vulnerable native species.
I have been attending AWMS meetings over the last decade, since the 2007 meeting in Fremantle. I have always been impressed by the practical, applied nature of the work that is presented at meetings of this society. I appreciate the window of opportunity to learn more about the challenges facing wildlife managers dealing with conservation issues that are often ‘wicked’ in nature. I have been impressed by the endeavours of AWMS members to step up to these challenges. Ingenious technology, solid science, open communication and hard work are always in evidence.
It is exciting times for AWMS. Recently, we were privileged to receive generous private donations that will facilitate our international actions as a society to support research and management into the future. AWMS has always substantially supported student participation at the annual meetings, and close to a third of our members are students. We are also accruing an increasing number of silverbacks who have taken on life membership to act as our mentors. Funding, enthusiasm, and knowledge are a powerful combination.
The AWMS meetings are an important meeting place for practioners, research scientists and community, brought together by our common goal of wildlife conservation. There is generally a wide range of viewpoints brought to the discussion, ensuring we are kept thinking about which side of the (dingo) fence we sit, and what we need to do about it. There is also the all-important annual opportunity to delve into the corners of your wardrobe to retrieve an under-utilised outfit that imagination can, somehow, make fit the dinner theme. Please join us in the mountains in Katoomba this year.
Last November, AWMS members from both sides of the Tasman converged on the ‘City of Sails’ for our 29th annual conference. The conference featured a number of symposia on topics related to the over-arching theme of Wildlife Management into the Future. Symposium topics included New Tools & Technology, Community Wildlife Management, Wildlife Disease and Urban Wildlife, to name a few.
The conference opened with a Maori welcome by Michael Steedman of Auckland University, who impressed upon us the importance of the natural world in Maori culture. The opening Keynote address by Dr Andrea Byrom discussed the challenges of New Zealand’s Predator-Free 2050 initiative, which aims to eradicate stoats, rats and possums nationally. Day 2 featured a Keynote address by Dr John Perrott of Auckland University of Technology, who spoke about indigenous perspectives on the natural world, and how these can be helpful in wildlife management.
As always, there were a huge number of excellent presentations by students, with the prize for best student speaker going to Emily Gregg of Melbourne University, and best student poster to Anushika Herath from Sydney University. The students also enjoyed a dinner at one of Auckland’s finest Spanish tapas bars, where they had a chance to meet and chat to members of the AWMS Committee over food and drinks.
No AWMS conference would be complete without a fancy-dress conference dinner. In keeping with the futuristic theme of the conference, the dress code for the dinner was Science-Fiction. Costumes were sourced from across the galaxy and from others far, far away; but the prize for best costume went to an Earthling: Ellen Ripley (AKA Cheryl Krull).
Many of the delegates enjoyed a pre-conference field trip, which included a tour of Auckland Zoo and its captive breeding facilities, as well as Rotoroa Island, where many of the captive-bred animals are released into the wild in a predator-free environment. The post-conference tour visited Tawharanui Open Sanctuary, a fenced, predator-free peninsula managed by Auckland Council. At both locations we saw rare and endangered native species that were extinct from mainland New Zealand before sanctuaries like these were established. Our warm thanks to Richard Jakob-Hoff and Matt Maitland, who organised and hosted these tours.
Another highlight of the conference was the awarding of the Caughley Medal – Australasia’s highest award in wildlife management – to Roger Pech. Roger’s contribution to wildlife management over the last 30 years has been outstanding, and it was a pleasure to see him receive this recognition.
Of course, a successful conference requires effort and planning, and sincere thanks are due to our Conference Liaison Officer, Konnie Gebauer, and all the members of the Conference Organising Committee: Margaret Stanley, Richard Jakob-Hoff, Cheryl Krull, Mark Mitchell, Robert Vennell and Pete Edwards – kia ora rawa atu.
Hope to see you in Katoomba for the 30th Annual AWMS Conference in November 2017!
2016 Conference Convener
Last years AWMS conference was held at the Quality Hotel in Parnell, Auckland (NZ) and attracted 108 delegates. The theme for the conference was ‘Wildlife Management – into the future’. Two field trips were offered, the first one combining a visit to the Auckland Zoo with a trip to Rotoroa Island on the Monday before the conference, and a second field trip to the Tawharanui Regional Park on the Friday after the conference. As with every year, we had a great poster happy hour on Tuesday followed by the student dinner, and on Wednesday we held the AGM followed by a wonderful conference dinner. As with last year the conference was a pleasure to organise due to the fantastic work by the local conference committee! Numbers for the AWMS2016 conference are summarised in the table below (in comparison with AWMS2015).
Sponsors for AWMS2016
Trade exhibitors at AWMS2016
At the end of the 2016 financial year the AWMS financial position is improving from a period of poor performance. At this point, the total assets were $152,185 consisting of the following breakdown:
Note that in this financial year we received a bequest of $20,000 and these funds are currently in the cheque account. The total current assets will also decline substantially over the next few months once the final costs from the 2016 conference are paid.
Total income was $157,412 and total expenses were $109,878, which provided a net income of $47,534. A breakdown is provided below. This compares to a net loss of $29,374 in 2015 and a net loss of $20,256 in 2014. The losses in 2014 and 2015 relate to expenses for book production and poor conference revenue.
The auditor raised several important points:
Other major changes this year included:
To assist future account access, the following is required to be listed on the AGM record:
Our membership numbers have decreased in 2016. At the end of the AWMS financial year for 2015 we had 239 members. This year we have 213 members – a decrease of 26 members. Unfortunately we had a high number of non-renewals this year (109 members). We have more members paying for multiple year membership (70 vs 66 paid in advance last year) which provides some stability to membership numbers.
In an effort to boost membership numbers and remind lapsed members their membership has expired, I sent an email on 18/04/2016 to all of our basic contacts ( including lapsed members and people who have attended a conference but have not registered as a member). This resulted in 4 renewing members; 2 Full (1 x 1 year and 1 x 3 years) and 2 Retired (2 x 1 year) which was disappointing. In 2017, I am planning to make more of an effort to promote AWMS membership, in particular to students. I also want to make students aware of the prizes that are on offer for the 2017 conference in Katoomba to boost the number of applications we receive. Tarnya will also promote the student prizes though the newsletter. Apologies for not attending the AGM this year.
Figures for 2016-2021 are current as at 1 November 2016. "Number" indicates total number of financial members for that AWMS financial year.
You can read about the work of our Graeme Caughley Award winner Roger Pech, and Postgraduate Award winner Kathryn Strang in this issue of the newsletter.
You can read more about the work of our other award winners (Best student presentation, Best student poster and Practitioner Award) in our July Newsletter.
The 2016 Postgraduate Student Award winner is Kathryn Strang, for her project identifying season and sex differences in feral cat diets using a mix of genetic and morphometric techniques.
Domestic cats (Felis catus), being opportunistic and solitary hunters have become a worldwide problem, as these characteristics have aided the establishment of feral cat populations. Feral cats affect native wildlife by predation, competition, and the spread of diseases. In New Zealand, since their introduction mammalian predators have preyed on naïve native fauna as they were easy to detect and catch (Wilson, 2004). Predator control is focused mainly on mustelids, rodents, possums and rabbits, though they are not the only problem. Feral cats are being identified as an issue; however, the public is often opposed to feral cat control. Feral cats prey mainly on the introduced ship rats (Rattus rattus) (Gillies & Fitzgerald, 2005) which are the most common rat in New Zealand forests. When ship rat numbers decrease due to the seasonal availability of food there is an increase in predation of native fauna by feral cats (Karl & Best, 1982; Gillies & Fitzgerald, 2005). Where rats were not present (e.g. Herekopare Island) birds and invertebrates were the main prey found in the guts of the thirty cats trapped (Fitzgerald & Veitch, 1985). Populations fluctuate in numbers naturally throughout seasons and years, and this is also seen in feral cats’ prey species. Being opportunistic, we would expect the feral cat diet to reflect these seasonal variations in prey availability. Few New Zealand studies identified seasonal dietary differences in feral cats (Fitzgerald & Karl, 1979; Pierce, 1987; Borkin, 1999; Fitzgerald & Turner, 2000). We want to know what prey is most consumed by an island feral cat population, and whether this varies seasonally.
We are starting genetic analysis of scats to determine if there is a sex bias in scats collected. A sex-bias in scats collected has been found in jaguars and other felid species, which does not reflect the true sex ratio in the population (Palomares et al., 2012). Males may use scats as scent marks more than females. This would mean that more male scats are sampled, which may not accurately reflect the diet of the population. Males are 1.5x heavier than females on average, which may enable them to kill larger prey than females. For these reasons, we also want to see if the sex ratio of scats collected reflects the true sex ratio of the population, and if there is a difference in the diet between the sexes.
Scats and casts were collected opportunistically throughout the study site from January 2014 to April 2016. The study site is the southern end of Ponui Island (~600 ha) which is a sheep and beef farm with a large piece of intact forest. Other than farm animals, feral cats, rats, and mice are the only mammals on the island. North Island brown kiwi (Apteryx mantelli) are also prevalent on the island. Samples were washed into a gradation of sieves. The contents were analysed under a microscope. Invertebrates were identified using an insect keys and invertebrate books. The vertebrate content of the scat was identified to species. When possible, morphological differences were used to identify any bones, hairs or scales found. Prey remains were collected around the study site when seen, and vertebrate material was compared to this.
Felid sex identification was based on the methods described by Pilgrim et al. (2005) on the amelogenin region, and were optimised for this study. Faecal and blood samples were collected from two cats at the Massey University Feline Unit. These samples were used to test and optimise the methods, and as a reference for the feral cat samples. Two hundred feral cat scat samples collected above were used for this part of the study. Extraction of DNA from these samples and the reference (colony cats) faecal samples was with the ISOLATE Fecal DNA Kit (Bioline) using 100 – 150mg of faeces. DNA was amplified using PCR techniques, and a gel was run to visualise results.
Only 200 scats have attempted to be sexed. So far, just over 50% of the samples have been successfully sexed. Due to the low success rate, more samples need to be sexed to determine the sex ratio. Just over 150 samples have also been sorted so far. Rats and mice are eaten frequently, as well as birds. Some scat samples also contain fragments of eggs.
This study is still being conducted. With this funding I will be sexing another 200 scat samples which will allow us to compare the sex ratio of scats to the sex ratio of the feral cat population. This will help us identify whether genetic techniques are useful as a non-invasive approach to identifying sex ratios. The increased sample size will also allow us to identify any dietary difference between the two sexes.
Borkin, K. M. (1999). Diet of feral cats (Felis catus) in pastoral habitats of Canterbury, Otago and Southland: Functional and numerical responses to rabbit availability. Post-graduate Diploma of Wildlife Management, University of Otago, Dunedin.
In his 35-year career to date, Roger Pech has made an outstanding contribution to wildlife management on both sides of the Tasman, and globally.
Roger had a slightly unorthodox start to his career in ecology and wildlife management; his university education was in physics. He completed a BSc (Hons) in 1974 and a PhD in 1980, both at Monash University in Melbourne. However, Roger’s PhD supervisor had a keen interest in natural history. From conversations with his supervisor, Roger deduced – correctly – that ecology is much more interesting than physics.
After his PhD, Roger started his first job as a Scientist in the CSIRO Land Resources Management team. This was the beginning of a distinguished 25-year career in the CSIRO, during which time Roger was also a prominent member of the Pest Animal Control Co-operative Research Centre and its predecessor, the CRC for Biological Control of Vertebrate Pests. In 2005, Roger started his current position as a Principal Scientist at Landcare Research here in New Zealand. He has also been appointed Visiting Professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Adjunct Professor at the University of Canberra, and Professor of Ecology at the University of Auckland.
During his time with the CSIRO in Australia and with Landcare Research in New Zealand, Roger’s research has led to important advances in the management of invasive animals such as rabbits, foxes, possums and mice, wildlife diseases such as foot and mouth, rabbit haemorrhagic disease and bovine tuberculosis, and threatened species such as kiwi and brush-tailed rock wallabies. Research teams under Roger’s leadership have received much recognition on both sides of the Tasman, including prestigious awards from the CSIRO and the New Zealand Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment.
Roger has also been instrumental in fostering a new generation of wildlife researchers and practitioners in Australia and New Zealand. Students and post-doctoral researchers from the Universities of Auckland, Sydney, New South Wales and Western Australia, to name a few, have benefited greatly from his supervision and mentorship. Many of these students have gone on to successful careers in wildlife management.
Roger’s research output over the past 35 years has been prolific and highly influential. He has produced more than 140 publications, including highly cited works on predator-prey dynamics, ecologically based rodent management, wildlife disease and many other topics.
Roger was one of the founding members of AWMS and has been active in the society since its inception. I’m sure you will agree that he is a thoroughly deserving recipient of the Graeme Caughley Medal.
The minutes from the 2016 AGM can be found here. Highlights from the meeting include:
New Office Bearers:
As no nominations were received in excess of available committee positions, the President declared that all positions are to be filled by the nominees.
(Please note, Andrew Bengsen had to step down and the new AWMS Secretary is Lily van Eeden whose position was confirmed at the last AWMS committee meeting Monday 13 February 2017)
The Fellowship commemorates the work of Dr Graeme Caughley FAA in ecology and wildlife management. Dr Caughley was a chief research scientist with the CSIRO Wildlife and Ecology until his death in February 1994. The Fellowship is financed through the generosity of his friends and colleagues.
The inaugural Fellowship was in 1996. The Fellowship is offered every two years. Up to $7,000 is offered (exempt of GST).
The purpose of the Fellowship is to enable ecologists resident in Australia or New Zealand to share their expertise by visiting scientific centres outside of the Fellow’s own country to deliver lectures.
The Fellow will be an ecologist resident in Australia or New Zealand. Preference will be given to an applicant who indicates an interest in population ecology of wildlife and its scientific management.
For further details see the Australian Academy of Science website and for details and the application form see here.
Applications are to be submitted by 1 June, 2017.
This newsletter reflects the opinions of the author(s) but not necessarily those of the AWMS Committee or membership. AWMS makes no claim as to the accuracy of stated claims and any party using this information does so at their own risk.