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AWMS Newsletter

  November 2016

   Volume 30 Issue 3     

From the President

Regular readers of this report (and who among you isn’t?) will have noticed the repetition of phrases such as ‘financial constraint’ and ‘careful financial management’ over the past couple of years. I am pleased to be able to now tell you that this situation has eased and AWMS is reasonably well set up for the near future. This has happened because of a very successful conference in 2015 and a moderately successful one in 2016. Many thanks to all those involved in those events including the local organising committees and of course our wonderful conference liaison officer, Konnie Gebauer. I am sure all AWMS members will also join me in congratulating Konnie on becoming a new mum in 2017.

Some more good news arrived in my letterbox this week with a cheque for $674.95 from CSIRO Publishing as royalties for our subsidisation of two of their books. We received $613.99 from sales of the camera trapping book (at a rate of 10%) and $60.95 from the book on Carnivores of Australia (at a rate of (5%). This is a welcome new income stream. It will never be large, but assisting cheaper publication of these books is in keeping with our objects and the royalties are welcome.

Last week I received an invitation from the Commonwealth Dept. of Agriculture to provide a delegate to attend a half day stakeholder engagement forum on Environmental Biosecurity. The committee judged it important that AWMS should be represented and Dr George Wilson has agreed to attend on our behalf. George is a long-time AWMS member, veterinarian and Canberra resident. The combination of expertise and low cost to AWMS makes him an ideal choice and I thank him for taking on the job. You will hear more about that meeting in an upcoming newsletter.

If it’s approaching November it must be AWMS conference time. This year’s conference is of course in Auckland New Zealand where it rains, the grass is green and they spend money on environmental management. All of these will be novel and interesting for non-New Zealand members. We also have planning well advanced for the 2017 conference which will be held in the beautiful Blue Mountains of NSW. Many thanks to Sue Briggs and her band of reviewers for being pro-active and selecting a narrow range of options for the committee to consider.

Finally, I want to announce that at this year’s AGM I will step down as President. This will complete my third consecutive year in the role and I don’t think it is healthy for any organisation to have static leadership for prolonged periods. So it is time for me to step aside and for a new person to take up the reins. It has genuinely been a pleasure and a privilege to work with such bright, enthusiastic and dedicated people.

May AWMS live long and prosper.

Greg Baxter

From the Editor

Well there we go - one full year (and my first year) of newsletters done! I hope you have enjoyed the new format of the newsletter and that this format has made it easier for you to receive and access the newsletter. If you haven't noticed, there is a "Forward to a Friend" link at the bottom of the newsletter email you received. Feel free to use it! I would like to give a big thank you to Doreen Culliver who did the formatting of our newsletter in the past, and thanks to our previous newsletter editor Jess Baumann.

Over the next 12 months you should start to see a pattern in what is reported and when. This is to help you, but particularly to help me stay on top of what needs to go into the newsletters each year. I'll be making sure you receive all the information that's relevant to you as members of the Society, including reports from our prize winners, announcements and advertising what you as members have been up to. So if you've got something to share with the membership, make sure you drop me a line!

As always, I'm happy to get your feedback on how the newsletter is going. Like it, love it or loathe it, I want to hear about it! Your suggestions help make this resource valuable to you, so feel free to share. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this issue of the newsletter and for those of you heading to the conference in New Zealand - see you there!

Tarnya Cox

awms agm announcement

Where: Quality Hotel, Parnell, Auckland, New Zealand
When: 30 November 2016
Time: 17:15

call for committee position nominations

This year sees four committee positions up for nomination. All committee positions become available every two years. Members who currently hold these committee positions are eligible to re-nominate. The following positions are open for nomination:

  • President
  • Secretary
  • Conference Liaison Officer
  • New Zealand Student Representative

All candidates must be members of AWMS and all candidates require a member to nominate them. If you would like to nominate someone for a position, please ensure you speak to that person first to gauge their interest in the position. Please send all nominations, including letters/emails of acceptance of the nomination, to

awms constitutional ammendments

At this years AGM, the AWMS Executive Committee proposes a couple of constitutional amendments. The first is following up on discussion regarding membership fees that were had at the 2015 AGM. The second is a recommendation of the Committee to adjust the AWMS financial year to allow increased reporting time for the AGM. A brief explanation is provided below.


Membership fees are suggested by the Executive Committee and approved by the membership at the AGM. At the 2015 AGM in Perth, there was support for allowing the Executive Committee to set the membership fees in line with the running costs of the Society without the need to take the changes to an AGM.

The current AWMS financial year of 1 November – 31 October leaves little time for the preparation of reports, particularly the auditors report, in time for presentation to the membership at the AGM approximately four weeks later. Moving the AWMS financial year will allow sufficient time to ensure all reports are completed in time for the AGM each year.

Proxy voting forms can be found by downloading the AWMS Constititution

awms 2017 conference


5-7 December 2017

In 2017 AWMS will be celebrating 30 years as a Society! We look forward to celebrating with you at our conference next year. The 2017 conference will be held in the Blue Mountains NSW at the gorgeous Carrington Hotel, Katoomba. The hotel is a 2 minute walk from the Katoomba rail station, making access to this venue easy for all. Further information will provided in the coming months, but in the meantime, mark your calendars, save the date and we'll see you in Katoomba in 2017!

2015 Postgraduate Student Award final report

Raising offspring in a risky environment: does predation influence parental activity in Petroica robins?

Clare Lawrence, PhD candidate, School of Environmental Sciences, Charles Sturt University

The introduction of exotic predators into new areas can have profound impacts on native fauna, but island faunas appear especially vulnerable (Blackburn et al., 2004; Salo et al., 2007). Animals that evolved with diverse predators generally exhibit a suite of behavioural strategies to recognise and respond to native predators, and these can readily be adapted to similar exotic predators. Many island species, however, evolved with few native predators. As a result, they often lack the ability to recognise an unfamiliar predator as a threat, and therefore fail to show appropriate behavioural responses. It is this naivety towards novel predators that makes island faunas so susceptible to the impacts of introduced species. In my PhD research I am investigating whether New Zealand birds have lost their naivety and show adaptive behaviours that reduce their risk of nest predation by exotic predators.

New Zealand provides a good study system for studying the development of anti-predator behaviours. The unique fauna evolved in the absence of any native mammalian predators, but the arrival of humans—Maori in the 13th century, and then Europeans in the late 18th century—was associated with the introduction of a range of predatory mammals including rodents, mustelids, cats and possums. Along with landscape modification, these predators have contributed to the loss of around 35% of the non-marine bird species present in New Zealand before human settlement (Holdaway, 1989). Although the New Zealand avifauna has a high degree of endemism, some genera are shared with Australia and New Guinea. This allows us to make comparisons of behavioural traits across congeneric species with different histories of predation risk.

Parental activity in Petroica robins

When a bird moves to and from its nest, it risks disclosing the location of the nest to nearby predators (Skutch, 1949). Consequently, a reduction in activity at the nest can be adaptive under high risk of nest predation. As part of my PhD research, my collaborators and I are investigating whether New Zealand robins (Petroica australis) living under high risk of nest predation by exotic mammals show adaptive changes in parental activity, compared to congeneric species on the Chatham Islands and in Tasmania. Additionally, we are testing whether populations of P. australis translocated onto predator-free islands have retained or lost any adaptive behaviour patterns.

We have quantified parental activity in four groups of robins from the genus Petroica which vary in their current and evolutionary exposure to nest predators:

(i) The Chatham Island black robin and Chatham Island tomtit. These species evolved on a remote archipelago with few or no native nest predators, and now inhabit an island which remains free of introduced mammals

(ii) Populations of New Zealand robin on the New Zealand mainland. New Zealand robins evolved with few or no native nest predators, but in mainland areas now face heavy predation pressure from introduced mammals such as rodents and mustelids

(iii) Populations of New Zealand robin on predator-free islands (Motuara Island and Allports Island). These populations were translocated from mainland areas in the 1970s, so while their ancestors had two centuries to adapt to novel mammalian predators, they have since had several decades to retain or lose these adaptations

(iv) The pink robin from Tasmania, which coevolved with a diverse suite of native mammalian and avian predators

To quantify parental activity in these groups, we analysed video recordings of nests. In 2015 I was granted the AWMS Postgraduate Research Award, which allowed me to purchase video equipment to make recordings of robin nests in Tasmania. Videos of the Petroica populations in New Zealand were recorded by my supervisor (now at Charles Sturt University) and collaborating researchers at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand. Each nest was recorded for six hours, starting at sunrise, once during the incubation stage and once around the time of feather emergence in the chicks. However, many nests never made it to the nestling stage: a clear message that predation is having an impact on nesting success. From the videos, we calculated incubation attentiveness (the overall proportion of time females spent on the nest during the incubation stage); the mean length of incubation bouts; and the frequency of visits to the nest by either parent in the incubation and nestling stages. For the nestling stage, the frequency of visits was calculated as visits per hour per chick, to reduce variation due to brood sizes.

If New Zealand robins have adapted to nest predation, we would expect New Zealand mainland populations to show patterns of activity similar to that of the Tasmanian species. In contrast, we would expect that the Chatham Island species would show higher activity levels, as they are not constrained by nest predation. If activity patterns can respond rapidly to changing risk of nest predation, robins translocated to predator-free islands should also show higher activity levels. While we still have more data to collect, our results so far largely support our hypotheses: the mainland population of New Zealand robin shows patterns of activity similar to that of the Tasmanian pink robin, with fewer but longer visits to the nest. In contrast, the translocated populations of New Zealand robins show activity patterns more similar to that of the Chatham Island populations.

Our results suggest that not only have the mainland New Zealand robins adjusted their activity patterns in response to exotic predators, the translocated island populations have reverted to “predator-free” behaviour patterns within less than 50 years of isolation. This is consistent with previous, similar research into changes in parental activity in New Zealand and Tasmanian honeyeaters under varying predator regimes (Massaro et al., 2008). The next stage in our research is to collect video data from another Tasmanian species, the flame robin, to test the assumption that pink robins are typical of Tasmanian species.

Conservation implications

In areas such as New Zealand, where exotic predators such as rodents and mustelids have wreaked havoc on the native avifauna, a common and successful method of conserving native species is to isolate them from predators through translocation to predator-free islands or fenced exclosures. There are drawbacks to this, however: isolation is costly and requires ongoing monitoring and management. Importantly, naïve prey that are isolated from predators remain naïve. There is evidence that naïve island birds can learn to recognise and respond to exotic predators (e.g. McLean, Hölzer & Studholme, 1999). Isolated populations have no opportunity to develop the ability to recognise and respond to the predators they may encounter in the wild; in some cases, prior learning may even be lost (Jamieson & Ludwig, 2012). This could be detrimental if individuals are once again exposed to predation risk. It is useful, then, to understand whether native species are adapting to the presence of exotic predators in the wild, and whether anti-predator behaviours are lost when predation pressure is relaxed. First results from our research suggest that in the New Zealand robin, adaptive patterns of parental activity have developed over the 800 years since the first mammalian predators arrived in New Zealand, but these are not retained under low predation risk. This raises some important questions. Firstly, are there fitness costs involved with reducing activity? The fact that robins revert to higher rates of activity under relaxed predation pressure suggests that this may be the case. Secondly, is parental behaviour plastic or evolved? If robins from translocated populations are ever returned to the mainland, it will be important to know whether individuals can respond rapidly to nest predation by altering their activity patterns, or whether relocated populations will be vulnerable to nest predators that they have once again lost the ability to outwit.


I would like to thank AWMS, for awarding me a Postgraduate Research Award in 2015. These funds allowed me to purchase video equipment for recording nests of Tasmanian robins. I am extremely grateful to my PhD supervisor Melanie Massaro, as well as Jim Briskie and Sol Heber (University of Canterbury), all of whom have generously made their New Zealand videos and data available to me.


Blackburn, T. M., Cassey, P., Duncan, R. P., Evans, K. L. , Gaston, K. J. (2004). Avian extinction and mammalian introductions on oceanic islands. Science 305, 1955-1958.
Holdaway, R. N. (1989). New Zealand's pre-human avifauna and its vulnerability. N Z J Ecol 12, 11-25.
Jamieson, I. G. , Ludwig, K. (2012). Rat-wise robins quickly lose fear of rats when introduced to a rat-free island. Anim Behav 84, 225-229.
Massaro, M., Starling-Windhof, A., Briskie, J. V. , Martin, T. E. (2008). Introduced mammalian predators induce behavioural changes in parental care in an endemic New Zealand bird. PLoS ONE 3, e2331.
McLean, I. G., Hölzer, C. , Studholme, B. J. S. (1999). Teaching predator-recognition to a naive bird: implications for management. Biol Conserv 87, 123-130.
Salo, P., Korpimaki, E., Banks, P. B., Nordstrom, M. , Dickman, C. R. (2007). Alien predators are more dangerous than native predators to prey populations. Proceedings of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences 274, 1237-1243.
Skutch, A. F. (1949). Do tropical birds rear as many young as they can nourish ? Ibis 91, 430-455.

A female pink robin (Petroica rodinogaster) at her nest. Every time she visits, she risks disclosing the location of the nest to a predator

In the face of predators that use visual cues to find their prey (like this grey butcherbird), nesting birds should reduce their activity at the nest

2015 Best Student Poster Award report

Heather M. Crawford
PhD Candidate in Conservation and Wildlife Biology

In December last year I was fortunate enough to attend the first day of the 2015 AWMS Conference in Perth, Western Australia. I contributed a poster detailing some of my research into the efficacy of non-lethal ultrasonic cat deterrents. I was extremely pleased to learn I had been awarded the student poster prize and have subsequently used the endowment to fund trials of the ultrasonic deterrents in backyards across metropolitan Perth.

I believe that cat deterrents need to be trialled as, although the public generally support control of feral cats in rural and remote areas, the use of lethal control to solve issues associated with cats in urban areas is contentious. Stray and pet cats cause numerous issues for the public when they are allowed to roam and enter private properties. Cats fight with other cats and dogs, spread disease such as cat influenza and ringworm, damage property through defaecation and urination, prey on outdoor pets ( e.g. guinea pigs), and may hunt any wildlife which has managed to persist in the urban landscape. It would therefore be useful if conservationists, municipal councils and animal shelters could – in lieu of lethal control – recommend that members of the public use a product which successfully prevented roaming cats from entering private property.

One such product may be the ultrasonic CatStop© (CS). This small, 9-Volt battery powered device exploits the cat’s incredibly sensitive hearing, which is one of the widest and highest frequency hearing ranges of cursorial mammals (Heffner and Heffner 1985).

The CatStop is staked into the ground and pointed towards an area one wishes to prevent cats from accessing (e.g. fish pond). Any cat which walks with ~ 6m of the device and within an 80˚ arc (Figure 1), will activate infra-red motion sensors and receive a blast of ultrasonic-sound (emitted at ~ 23 Kilo Hertz). CS Manufacturer, Contech™, claims that the ultrasound is “the equivalent of a jackhammer” to cats, and that while they will not be harmed, cats will be shocked by the experience, develop a negative association with the target area and avoid it thereafter.

The CatStop ultrasonic deterrent requires independent testing before any recommendations can be made to the general public for its use. As part of my PhD I investigated whether: 1) cats were able to detect the ultrasonic CatStop, 2) cats exhibited negative responses to CatStop, and, 3) reactions to CatStop varied with cat demographic factors.


Trials of the CatStop were carried out at the Cat Haven animal shelter, Western Australia’s largest cat shelter. Ten cats, plus two controls, were selected by shelter staff to fit predetermined sex, age (0 - 1 year; 1 - 7 years; 7 + years) and temperament (confident or timid according to assessment by staff) categories. Cats were placed in an enclosed, netted trial area, and in each corner bedding, litter tray, food and hide-box were provided to accommodate basic natural behaviours. After an initial 20 minute adjustment period in the enclosure, cats were filmed for a ten minute period (CS OFF), followed consecutively by a second ten minute period (CS ON), during which a single CatStop was triggered manually every minute by an operator behind a screen. Video footage was scrutinised, and cat behaviours were classified using an anxiety - spectrum (FIGURE 1).

FIGURE 1: Twelve cats were filmed in a trial arena, for two 10 minute periods, and behaviours were classified according to an anxiety - spectrum (adapted from Little 2012), and tabulated for analyses.

Detection and Reaction

Cats were assumed to have successfully detected ultrasonic sound if their ears, heads and / or body swivelled to face the direction of the CatStop after triggers. Reactions to the CS were classified as negative if frequencies of ‘anxious - fearful’ behaviours increased, and if at least 1 of 3 typical cat stress behaviours (displacement grooming; retreat into hide box / litter tray; distress vocalisations (e.g. yeowl, hiss etc.), were exhibited after triggers.

Demographic Effects

Behaviour frequencies were analysed for variation across ON and OFF trial periods using Chi2 contingency tables.


In the absence of the CatStop, control cats did not change behaviour frequencies across ON and OFF periods (TABLE 1).

TABLE 1: Chi2 contingency analyses of anxiety-spectrum behaviour frequencies confirm trial cats reacted negatively to CatStop

 2 x Control Cats2.560.278 
 Across 10 x Trial Cats63.66<0.0001 
2 x Sex 11.740.163 
3 x Age57.8616 <0.0001 
2 x Temperament 52.44<0.0001 

Video footage of behaviour confirmed that all cats exposed to CatStop successfully detected the ultrasonic alarm, swivelling their ears, head or body to face the direction of CS following triggers. Across trial cats, the overall anxiety state altered between OFF and ON periods, with frequencies of ‘anxious - fearful’ behaviours increasing significantly (TABLE 1 & FIGURE 2). All ten cats exhibited at least 1 of the 3 typical stress behaviours following trigger events.

FIGURE 2: Pooled behaviour frequencies of trial cats (n = 10), before - and during, exposure to CatStop.

Sex had no effect on cat reactions to CatStop across OFF and ON periods (TABLE 1). However, the age of cats did effect reactions, with cats 7 + years having the greatest change in anxiety behaviours. Cat temperament also effected reaction to CS, with confident cats exhibiting the greatest change in anxiety behaviours, whilst timid cats remained alert.


Despite CatStop having several technical issues (not all movements in the activation zone set off the device; occasionally 2 - 3 sounds were emitted instead of only one; battery power diminished quickly), trials of the device confirmed that all cats were able to detect the ultrasonic alarm. Reactions to CS varied with age (adults became more anxious than juveniles), and temperament (confident cats became more anxious than timid cats), but were negative overall.

Male and female cats responded similarly to CatStop, but surprisingly, confident cats were more likely to react adversely to CS than timid cats. Confident cats quickly relaxed in the arena and when the CS was eventually triggered, cats panicked and rapidly transitioned to a heightened state of anxiety. Timid cats were already anxious about being in unfamiliar surroundings, so did not significantly increase their anxiety behaviours. These results may indicate that cats which roam onto private properties and who are familiar and relaxed in their surroundings will experience a greater adverse reaction to deployed CatStops.


Trials of the CatStop ultrasonic deterrent reveals that cat behaviour is negatively affected. Ultrasonic technology may therefore have some application in disrupting the roaming behaviour of cats entering private properties. Field trials of the device should be carried out to ascertain its wider applicability.


A huge thank you to the AWMS Committee for the generous 2015 poster prize award!!  R. Robinson and staff at Cat Haven Animal Shelter (Shenton Park, WA). Trial cats- Crumby, Pumpkin Puss, Bandicoot, Tootsie, Ronan, Abel, Hope, Gabby, Gracey, Georgina, Puffy & Rambo


Heffner R.S. and Heffner H.E. (1985) Hearing range of the domestic cat. Hearing Research 19(1), 85-88.
Little, S. E. (Ed.) (2012) ‘The Cat: Clinical Medicine and Management.’ (W.B. Saunders: Saint Louis, USA)

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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