Title

Response of Australian Boobooks (Ninox boobook) to threatening processes across urban, agricultural, and woodland ecosystems

Author Identifiers

ORCID: 0000-0001-5219-2962

Date of Award

2019

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

School

School of Science

First Advisor

Dr Robert Davis

Second Advisor

Dr Allan Burbidge

Field of Research Code

050104, 050211, 060208, 060411

Abstract

The effects of habitat fragmentation on native wildlife can vary depending on the type of land use occurring in the matrix between remaining habitat fragments. I used Australian boobooks (Ninox boobook) in Western Australia to investigate interactions between matrix type and four different potential threatening processes: secondary poisoning by anticoagulant rodenticides (ARs); limitation of juvenile dispersal and impacts on spatial genetic structure; breeding site availability; and infection by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii.

I also conducted a literature review on the use and regulation of ARs in Australia and published accounts of non-target impacts in order to contextualise exposure patterns observed in boobooks. The review revealed records of confirmed or suspected poisoning across 37 vertebrate species in Australia. World literature relating to AR exposure in reptiles suggests that they may be less susceptible to AR poisoning than birds and mammals. This relative resistance may create unevaluated risks for wildlife and humans in Australia where reptiles are more abundant than in cooler regions where AR exposure has been studied in greater depth.

I analysed AR residues in boobook livers across multiple habitat types. Second generation anticoagulant rodenticides were detected in 72.6% of individuals sampled. Total AR concentration correlated positively with the proportion of urban land use within an area approximately the size of a boobook’s home range centred on the point where the sample was collected. ARs originating in urban habitat probably pose a substantial threat to boobooks and other predatory wildlife species.

No spatial genetic structure was evident in boobooks across habitat types. I observed one individual dispersing at least 26km from its natal home range across urban habitat. The apparent permeability of anthropogenically altered landscapes probably explains the lack of spatial genetic structure and is likely related to the observed ability of boobooks to use resources in both urban and agricultural matrices.

Boobooks did not appear to be limited by the availability of suitable nesting sites in urban or agricultural landscapes. Occupancy did not change significantly over the duration of the study in remnants provided with artificial nest boxes in either landscape type. However, in one instance, boobooks successfully used a nest box located in an urban bushland. Nest boxes may be a useful management tool in highly-altered areas where natural hollows are unavailable.

Toxoplasma gondii seropositivity in boobooks did not vary significantly by landscape type but was more prevalent in individuals sampled during cooler wetter times of year. Risk of exposure due to greater cat abundance in urban and agricultural landscapes may be offset by creation of environmental conditions less favourable to the survival of T. gondii oocysts in soil.

Taken together, this body of research demonstrates variation in relationships between different types of habitat fragmentation and threatening processes related to fragmentation. This research also raises questions about how habitat fragmentation is discussed and studied in the context of species which are capable of making extensive use of matrix habitat. I recommend greater consideration of the concept of “usable space” when studying fragmentation impacts in habitat generalists.

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