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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Evaluation of restricted-area culling strategies to control local red fox density Porteus, Thomas Allen


Lethal control of red foxes is often implemented on restricted areas where immigration from neighbouring sources is expected to make it difficult to keep local fox density low. The justification of lethal wildlife control should include demonstrating its effectiveness. To this end, population dynamics modelling may help to assess the performance of different control strategies in a range of real-world circumstances. A Bayesian state-space model for within-year fox population dynamics was developed that could be fitted to data on daily culling effort and success obtained from gamekeepers on shooting estates in Britain. The estimation model included parameters for key population processes within the culling area: immigration, cub recruitment and non-culling mortality. A simulation-estimation study showed that given a minimum of three years’ data the estimation of fox density and demographic parameters was reliable. Informative priors for the key model parameters were constructed using empirical data and meta-analysis. Data from 22 estates were modelled on a two-weekly time-step. Most estates achieved some suppression of the fox population relative to estimated carrying capacity, but few maintained consistently low densities. The number of foxes killed was a poor indicator of culling effectiveness, highlighting the need for modelling. Estimated immigration rates onto estates were typically high, indicating rapid replacement of culled foxes. There was unexpectedly high spatial variation among estates in estimated carrying capacity and immigration rate. There was evidence from a limited subset of estates that the variable density of released game birds may explain this. The food requirement of the fox population during the nesting period was assumed to indicate predation pressure on wild birds. Alternative culling strategies to reduce this requirement were evaluated using posterior parameter estimates from some estates. Culling concentrated in spring and summer only was more effective than culling uniformly throughout the year. Autumn-only culling was not an effective strategy for wild birds. Open-loop strategies were most effective as culling effort was used all the time. However, closed-loop strategies, where culling effort was conditional on feedback from simulated field-sign searches, achieved similar effects on food requirements using less effort. This revealed trade-offs between effectiveness, cost and animal welfare.

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