Reintroducing predators such as dingoes and Tasmanian devils into landscapes may help protect Australia's diminishing biodiversity, say researchers.
A new paper to be published in the May edition of Trends in Ecology and Evolution suggests dingoes and Tasmanian devils could control invasive species, such as cats and foxes, as well as overabundant herbivores.
"We need to be quite bold and allow predators back into the landscape and see if they can reverse some of the damage we've done," says Dr Euan Ritchie, ecologist at Deakin University in Melbourne and lead author of the paper.
Since European settlement, humans have drastically altered the Australian environment, resulting in one of the highest rates of species loss in the world. Cats and foxes have wreaked havoc on small wildlife species, while larger natives, such as kangaroos, have multiplied.
Ritchie says the traditional approach to conservation is to manage species in isolation instead of considering the whole ecosystem.
"We are constantly trying to poison foxes to reduce their populations and we are constantly culling kangaroos to keep their numbers low. But the reason why these species are problematic is that there is nothing controlling them," says Ritchie. "In a true wild system, larger predators would control both of these species."
Australia's top dog
Top predators are animals at the apex of the food chain with no natural enemies. They play an important role in nature by keeping populations of other species in check.
Australia currently has one top predator - the dingo.
Scientists believe that expanding the range of the dingo, and also the Tasmanian devil, would reduce the number of introduced pest species, therefore allowing smaller native animals to flourish.
"Where dingo populations are still surviving is where we see a lot of threatened species still managing to survive in the wild, and that's probably because dingoes are controlling cats and foxes," says Ritchie.
Although farmers fear that bringing back dingoes may harm livestock, scientists argue that there are viable solutions.
Guardian animals, such as dogs, alpacas and even donkeys could offer protection against livestock predation.
Ritchie says long-term studies are needed to monitor the effects of top predators in varying habitats. However, he believes that if properly managed, more dingoes and Tasmanian devils in the landscape would help save species and restore a natural balance to our ecosystems.