Oral Presentation- Symposium 12th International Mammalogical Congress

Can we use conditioned taste aversion to mitigate cane toad impacts on northern quolls? (#449)

Naomi L Walters 1 2 , James Smith 1 , Ben Phillips 3 , Jonathan Webb 4
  1. Australian Wildlife Conservancy- Mornington Sanctuary, Derby, Western Australia, Australia
  2. School of Life Sciences, University of Technology, Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  3. School of Biosciences, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
  4. School of Life Sciences, University of Technology, Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

The invasion of toxic cane toads (Rhinella marina) has caused local extinctions of populations of the endangered northern quoll (Dasyurus hallucatus). Rather than attempting to halt the toad invasion, we trialled a novel method that used conditioned taste aversion to modify quoll behaviour. In the laboratory, we offered ‘toad aversion sausages’  to 25 captive northern quolls and measured their feeding responses when presented with a dead adult toad and/or a live toad metamorph the following evening. In the field, we offered toad sausages to wild quolls at bait stations in the Central Kimberley, Western Australia. Captive quolls that consumed a single toad sausage subsequently avoided dead adult cane toads and refused to attack live metamorph toads. Field trials showed that wild northern quolls readily consumed toad-aversion baits more frequently than non-target species inhabiting the study area. Through the use of Spot ID analysis software, we quantified bait uptake by individual quolls and the proportion of wild quolls that consumed baits. Furthermore we were able to quantify non-target species activity and uptake in association with bait. Our results suggest that toad-aversion sausages can be used to train wild quolls to not eat cane toads. Further work is needed to determine whether baiting can enhance population viability. Nonetheless, our results suggest that broad-scale deployment of toad aversion sausages should be feasible, and could be used by wildlife managers to prevent quoll extinctions at a landscape scale.