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AWMS Newsletter

  April 2016

Volume 30 Issue 1   

From the President

Welcome to the first AWMS newsletter for 2016. Following the 2015 conference and AGM in Perth we have a highly renovated committee and I especially want to welcome the new members to it. The Perth conference was of course an outstanding success from all points of view. I will leave you to read the details in Konnie’s report, but AWMS is now in a much stronger financial position than we were heading into the conference. That doesn’t mean that we can loosen the purse strings too much, but if we continue with our prudent financial management for another 12 months and have another successful conference this year we should be in a position to place some funds back in term deposit as we have done before.

The new year has been devoted to getting the new bank account signatories signed up at the bank. This sounds simple, but when the signatories are scattered far and wide and the bank employee is inexperienced in dealing with a society account, the transaction can be challenging. But we are there now. At the last AGM the membership approved a constitutional change to allow four members, nominated by the committee, to be signatories. Those signatories for 2016 are; Me, Tom Newsome, Tarnya Cox and Will Batson.

Again on an organisational front, our long-serving Public Officer, Sylvana Maas, has expressed a desire to step down from that position and we have appointed former AWMS president Terry Korn to that position. Many thanks to Sylvana for her years of service and thank you to Terry for taking on the role.

Even though it seems a long way off planning is well underway for the 2017 conference in Auckland, New Zealand. The venue is secured, the prices are set and a call for abstracts can be expected on the 1st of June.

I was recently contacted by the NSW minister for Environment and asked to nominate an AWMS representative to sit on the Kangaroo Management Advisory panel. We have been well represented on that panel by Steve McLeod. Steve has agreed to be renominated and I understand his first meeting was in March.

Lastly, I have been in discussion with Nigel Andrew from the Ecological Society of Australia and the Presidents of other societies in Australia to explore means by which we can cooperate more closely and get a bigger bang for our collective buck. This is still very preliminary but more telephone conversations are planned for the future.

On behalf of the AWMS committee I welcome you to 2016 and hope you enjoy this newsletter, the first to be prepared by our new editor, Tarnya Cox.

Conference Wrap-up

by Stuart Dawson

In December of 2014, when AWMS announced that it was to host its next annual conference in Perth, the Western Australian contingent jumped with excitement, before quickly sitting back down as we realised the tricky task that lay ahead of us. We were to host a conference, in the most isolated (and expensive-to-get-to) capital city on Earth, while attracting fund-limited scientists and managers, from fund-limited organisations, to support a fund-limited society that relies primarily on its annual conference for income.

All the while through the planning process, we clung on to the thought that the ‘biggest AWMS conference in recent times was in Fremantle’, and hoped that WA could come up with the goods a second time. Not only can Fremantle not be relied upon for being indicative of conference attendance (least of all for an AFL premiership), but also the economic climate is very different to what it was in 2008. Nevertheless we persevered.

Initially registration was slow, as is expected, which worried us greatly. But as the registrations drew to a close, the conference quickly filled, and finished at capacity with nearly 100 talks and 17 posters. Any more speakers would have required concurrent sessions. The cost of travel has made attendance at AWMS conferences un-economical for WA members in the past, and the hosting of the conference in Perth allowed many of these people to attend.

Heartened by this news, and the incoming support from generous donators, we cracked on with the organisation of the conference itself. We decided on the themed sessions, booked an ambitious venue for the icebreaker and conference dinner, and had many long lunches checking the culinary qualities of potential student dinner venues.

The conference began with the Icebreaker on the terrace of Government House, a state-owned venue, which is still the official residence of WA’s Governor. This beautiful venue was a wonderful place to welcome people to our fair state. After our animal-themed Welcome to Country, we were extremely lucky to have the WA minister for the environment, the Hon. Albert Jacobs, open the conference, and tactfully ‘show off’ conservation work conducted in WA.

The next day (Tuesday), the conference kicked-off with a daylong session looking at ‘managing feral cats and canids’. Talks ranged from practical management, current research, through to legislation. Sessions on days 2 and 3 included remote surveillance and sampling, genetics and physiology for wildlife management, translocations and engineering ecosystems, biosecurity, leading on to education and engagement tools that work towards stewardship.

Before lunch and afternoon tea on this first day, we saw a new addition to the AWMS roster: ‘speed talks’ from the exhibitors and poster presenters. Each presenter had 1minute to entice attendees to come and view their poster at happy hour at the end of the day.

The student dinner was held on Tuesday night at ‘The Greenhouse’, which was very well attended, and saw a great amount of discussion and new connections made.

Wednesday night saw Government House again light up with some ambitious and embarrassing ‘Wild West’ costumes for the conference dinner. Honorable mentions go to Peter Adams and Tarnya Cox for wearing essentially the same costume, although one looked more at ease than the other. We finished the night off with great entertainment from ‘Roger Roger’, a local Perth cover band.

Special mention must be made of Renea at the Mercure Hotel, who made all aspects of the planning process exceptionally easy, and prompted us for details when we were late or distracted. The same is true for Irek from Government House, who graciously entrusted us with this beautiful venue.

As a WA researcher, I was very excited by the breadth and quality of talks from fellow WA researchers presented at this conference, which I would otherwise be unaware of. Australia is a big place, and WA is exceptionally large, and it seems that this conference provided a very welcome sharing platform for people from the same state (or organisation) who are unaware of each other, let alone the sharing with interstate counterparts.

I would like to thank the key players in organising the 2015 AWMS conference: Trish Fleming, Konnie Gebauer, Malcolm Kennedy, Dorian Moro, Tracey Moore, Shannon Dundas, Manda Page, Bill Bateman, and Peter Adams.

Conference Liaison Officer Report

by Konnie Gebauer

AWMS conference 2015, 23-26 November 2015, Mercure Hotel, Perth


94 oral presentations
17 Posters presentations


In total 183 people attended the conference, including:

  • 15 delegates registered through sponsorship and trade exhibition packages,
  • 28 one or two day registrations, and
  • 140 full conference registrations

Exhibition stalls

Sirtrack, Solais Geoinformatics Pty Ltd, Invasive Animal CRC, DPAW, Sheffield Wire Products, Advanced Telemetry Sydtems, Animal Control Technologies


Silver Sponsors: Terrestrial Ecosystems, Invasive Animal CRC, DPAW
Student prize sponsors: Murdoch University
Lottery West Grant Winners:

  • Alexandra James AWC, Mornington Wildlife Sanctuary
  • Jo Kuiper Pilbara mesquite Management Committee
  • Sue Metcalf Chittering Landcare Group
  • Jodie Quinn Warren Catchments Council
  • Sheila Howat Bridgetown-Greenbushed Biosecurity Group Inc.

Field trip attendance

Rottnest Island: 21 delegates
Karakamia Night Tour: 19 delegates


Prizes: Elephant Spray Painting sponsored by Perth ZOO, 2 books Advances in Reintroduction Biology of Australian and New Zealand Fauna

Raffle tickets sold for $258.95


Overall conference income $124,300, made up of:

  • Conference registrations: $105,175 (Earlybird registrations = $82,415)
  • Sponsorship: $16,480 (Additional registrants = $2,640)
  • Field trips: $2,645
  • Overall conference expenditure: $90,116.43
Balance: + $33,808.57

Conference Survey Results

As you are aware, we at the AWMS Committee are always looking for ways that we can improve on our services to our members. Last year we decided to undertake a quick survey into our conferences and how we run them. The survey was brief – it consisted of six questions and was made available to all 161 attendees. We received 60 responses (37% return rate). While two of the questions were related to the Perth conference in particular (what did you like/what would you change), the remaining four questions were about the running of AWMS conferences in general.

We were interested in whether the timing of the Ecological Society of Australia conference affected attendance at the AWMS conference. Would the decision to attend AWMS be affected by a clash with ESA? 60% of respondents said a clash with the ESA conference would not affect their attendance at AWMS. 12% said it would affect their attendance and 28% of respondents either didn’t respond, were unsure or hadn’t heard of ESA. As a side note, the recent poll conducted on the AWMS website had a similar outcome with 70% of respondents (n=47) saying that the timing of the ESA conference does not affect their attendance at AWMS. Since the time of these surveys, we have since had contact with the president of ESA in an effort to try and coordinate our conferences a little better, to the benefit of all members.

At times, the suggestion of concurrent sessions at AWMS conferences has been raised. It has been the Committee’s understanding that the membership does not want concurrent sessions at AWMS conferences and that they enjoy being able to attend all presentations. The Committee also feels that this is an important aspect of our support for students, encouraging them to present to a large and diverse audience. Still, it’s good to check! 64% of respondents did not want concurrent sessions. 23% of respondents said they did want concurrent sessions, although many said that they didn’t want them for the entire conference, or only wanted them if we could video all presentations so that they could still see all the presentations. 13% did not respond.

In regards to videoing presentations, 57% of respondents did not want presentations recorded. 30% were positive towards recording presentations, however many of these did not want it if it was going to raise the price of the conference. 13% did not respond. There would be some considerable data management challenges if we decided to record presentations. While the Committee is prepared to consider these, until there is an overwhelming majority of attendees who want it, we will leave videoing presentations on the back-burner for the time being.

At the Perth conference, AWMS ran speed talks for the first time. Speed talks allowed poster presenters and trade exhibitors one minute to spruik their poster/products. The overwhelming response was a positive one with 93% of respondents liking the speed talks. 5% did not like the speed talks and 2% did not respond. We think the speed talks could be here to stay!

Finally, respondents stated that they enjoyed the diversity of topics covered during the conference, and being exposed to research areas different to their own. On the negative side some stated that the room was a little cold, and some would have preferred shorter days. For a full breakdown of how the conference went, please see the Organisers and the Conference Liaison Officers report.

Best Presentation Student Profile

Patrick Garvey

The winner of the best student presentation at the 2015 AWMS conference was Patrick Garvey, for his work on interference competition in New Zealand's invasive predators. Patrick has provided a summary of his research and his winning presentation.

Invasive predators alter the structure of ecosystems, suppressing prey and maintaining populations at lower densities than native carnivores (Salo et al., 2007). These introduced predators can interact via interference competition and the repercussions of these confrontations will trickle down to lower trophic levels, influencing native species survival. The aim of my research was to understand interference competition in New Zealand’s invasive predator guild and to examine whether olfactory communication may have a role in these interactions. I investigated mesopredator foraging behaviour in outdoor pens and these results were used to design subsequent field experiments. Our focal study predator was the stoat (Mustela erminea), a tenacious small carnivore regarded as one of the world’s worst invasive species and responsible for catastrophic declines in native fauna in New Zealand (King and Powell, 2007).

The initial challenge for my PhD research was to establish whether stoats view larger predators, feral cats (Felis catus) and ferrets (M. furo), as dominant invasive species. In pen trials, I measured stoats’ behavioural responses during encounters with a cat or a ferret held separately in a small cage. By placing food in a tray near the holding cage I could use giving-up densities (GUDs) to quantify stoats’ perception of risk (Brown, 1988). Nocturnal interactions revealed that, in the presence of a larger predator, stoats completely altered their foraging behaviour, increasing levels of vigilance while reducing overall food intake. These findings were published in the journal Biological Invasions.

In the second round of pen experiments, I investigated how stoats might avoid a dominant predator. Olfaction, the primary sense of most mammals, may mediate trophic interactions by allowing subordinate species to assess the risk of an encounter (Roberts and Gosling, 2001). Predator body odour is known to elicit stronger behavioural responses than odour from other sources, as it may indicate the likelihood the predator is nearby (Apfelbach et al., 2005). It was hypothesised that dominant predator odour would act as a deterrent to a foraging mesopredator, based on the results of the initial experiment. However, contrary to predictions, stoats were strongly attracted to dominant predator odour, and food placed in locations with predator scent was consumed much faster than at experimental controls. The scent of a dangerous adversary elicited increased vigilance and stoats may be attracted to assess predation risk or possibly to help locate shared resources. These findings were published in the journal Behavioural Ecology and Sociobiology.

The response of captive stoats to dominant predator odour was intriguing and had potential applications for wildlife management. A field experiment was devised to investigate whether predator scent would provoke similar responses in free-ranging stoats. We deployed eighty camera traps at two 7 km2 sites in an area where stoats, ferrets and feral cats are sympatric. In each of two one-month sessions, I recorded a four-fold increase in stoat observations and a three-fold increase in site occupancy with the addition of ferret odour, in comparison to detections with just rabbit meat. Additionally, there were significant increases in hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus) and ship rat (Rattus rattus) detections, two common mesopredators at the study site. Ferret odour, due to its durability in the environment, maintained attraction levels throughout the trial suggesting that this long-life lure could greatly benefit wildlife monitoring and control.

According to ecological theory, stoats, ferrets and feral cats can only coexistence if partitioning occurs along at least one of the main niche components – resources, space, or time (Menge and Sutherland, 1976). As generalist predators, invasive carnivores exhibit high resource overlap and the depauperate range of prey available in New Zealand reduces the possibility of dietary partitioning. I used camera-trap data from field experiments to investigate spatial and temporal niche partitioning. Using occupancy modelling, I tested the influence of prey and dominant predators on stoats’ spatial distribution, and I used kernel density estimates to compare reciprocal activity patterns (separation in time). Large predators exhibited ‘resource matching’ (Linnell and Strand 2000), as they were found where prey (particularly rabbits) were most abundant. In contrast, stoats exhibited ‘safety matching’ because they avoided areas with high densities of dominant predators, although these areas also had preferred prey. Stoats’ temporal activity revealed almost complete divergence from the patterns of cats and ferrets, suggesting time is an important axis that facilitates niche partitioning. I subsequently tested whether selectively removing both larger predators from one study site would alter stoats’ demographics. Removal of cats and ferrets transformed the predator community in accordance with the mesopredator release hypothesis – stoat detections increased after dominant predator removal and, six months later, stoats had changed from being effectively undetectable to the most common predator.

Future research

Differences in trappability and occupancy within guilds of invasive predators imply that interference competition warrants consideration. Deploying dominant predator pheromones to attract sub-ordinate predators, and in some cases species of lower trophic levels (e.g. hedgehogs in my field experiment), is a novel approach that can contribute to population monitoring and invasive species management. Combining the fields of conservation and behavioural ecology has the potential to reduce invasive species impacts by providing information and novel solutions to improve management outcomes.


Apfelbach R, Blanchard CD, Blanchard RJ, Hayes RA, McGregor IS, 2005. The effects of predator odors in mammalian prey species: A review of field and laboratory studies. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews 29:1123-1144.
Brown JS, 1988. Patch use as an indicator of habitat preference, predation risk, and competition. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 22:37-47.
Garvey PM, Glen AS, Pech RP, 2015. Foraging Ermine Avoid Risk: behavioural responses of a mesopredator to its interspecific competitors in a mammalian guild. Biol Invasions 17:1771-1783.
Garvey PM, Glen AS, Pech RP, 2016. Dominant predator odour triggers caution and eavesdropping behaviour in a mammalian mesopredator. Behav Ecol Sociobiol:1-12.
King CM, Powell RA, 2007. The Natural History of Weasels and Stoats: Ecology, Behaviour and Management, 2 edn. New York: Oxford University Press.
Menge BA, Sutherland JP, 1976. Species diversity gradients: synthesis of the roles of predation, competition, and temporal heterogeneity. Am Nat:351-369.
Roberts SC, Gosling LM, 2001. The economic consequences of advertising scent mark location on territories. Chemical Signals in Vertebrates 9: Springer. p. 11-17.
Salo P, Korpimäki E, Banks PB, Nordström M, Dickman CR, 2007. Alien predators are more dangerous than native predators to prey populations. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences 274:1237-1243.

AGM Outcomes

At the AWMS AGM held 25 November 2015, the Society passed a number of constitutional amendments. The main areas of amendment relate to changing membership from January 1 through December 31 to rolling anniversary dates of membership, membership applications and approvals processes, the issuing of receipts, proxy forms and the number of ordinary committee members.  Discussion also covered the desired need for the committee to be able to set Membership fees to cover running costs without going to an AGM. This was supported by the meeting but needs to be done through a further amendment to the constitution, so should be prepared and tabled at the 2016 meeting. An increase to membership fees by $20 per year to all categories of membership was also carried at the AGM.

The timing of the AWMS annual conference was also raised. Academics would like to avoid the last week in November as this is the end of semester and involves testing and/or marking. The suggestion was to lock in the first week of December as the conference date, regardless of when other conferences such as ESA were on. There was general support for the idea from the meeting, however it was also felt that having the flexibility of either the last week in November or the first week in December was important for sourcing venues.

We also had a change in Executive Committee Members. Your new executive committee are:

President - Greg Baxter, Vice President - Ben Allen, Treasurer - Tom Newsome, Membership Secretary - Shannon Dundas, Secretary - Karen Rusten, Student rep (AU) - Stuart Dawson, Committee Members - Malcolm Kennedy, Tarnya Cox, Pip Masters. The position of Student rep (NZ) is vacant and the committee welcomes any nomination of an NZ student rep from the membership.

A big thank you to our outgoing committee members for their service to AWMS - Will Batson, Andrew Bengsen, Al Glen, Frances Zewe and Helen Nathan.

The AGM minutes can be found here .

2016 Conference

This newsletter reflects the opinions of the author(s) but not necessarily those of the AWMS Committee or membership. AWMS makes no claim as to the accuracy of stated claims and any party using this information does so at their own risk.

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