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Smarter Management For Better Results

Manaaki Whenua’s Dr Patrick Garvey and colleagues recently published new ideas on manipulating vertebrate pest behaviour for wildlife management. The research followed an interdisciplinary workshop in 2018, which brought together experts in the fields of animal behaviour and sensory ecology with scientists involved in pest management.

“Pest management often focuses on the ‘average’ individual within a pest population,” says Dr Garvey. “It neglects the potentially important aspect of individuality where different life histories, motivations and "personalities" could alter how a pest responds to control tools. Individual differences will influence whether an animal goes into a trap, how it responds to scent lures, or indeed any management action. If we focus on the 'average' pest, we fail to mitigate the damage done by ‘rogues’ – individuals that cause disproportionate impact, and we fail to target ‘recalcitrants’ – those individual animals that know to avoid standard control measures. These are the pests that cause most damage and are very expensive to remove.”

Example of these problem individuals In a New Zealand context would be the uncatchable stoat inside a fenced sanctuary, the domestic cat that targets a colony of birds, or the rat that refuses to enter a trap. To effectively target these pests we need to change from the standard approach.

Conservation managers have three levers to pull when managing pests; the attractiveness of the bait or lure, the fearfulness of the trap, and the background environment. Manipulating any of these can increase the likelihood that an animal will interact with a device. For example, using a different lure based on predator scent for pests (stoats/weasels/hedgehogs), making a trap appear 'safe' by using natural materials, or focusing on food lures when food is scarce (winter), should increase trappability. Using different types of lures (visual/odour/auditory) based on different pest motivations (mates/food/predators) will also target more individuals.

Management that incorporates principles of behavioural ecology should enable these ideas to be tested in the field, to increase the effectiveness of predator control. While applying fundamental animal behaviour will improve pest management, we can also learn from those exceptional trappers and managers working in New Zealand, who intuitively adjust their approaches for effective pest control.

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