An international collaboration of scientists has reported serious deficiencies in the data and analysis used to justify the controversial 13-year Tasmanian fox eradication program (FEP).
There are few large island habitats in Australia now free of fox (Vulpes vulpes) populations. Those remaining have a critical role in the conservation of Australian biodiversity. In 2001 the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service reported that 11-19 foxes had been deliberately released into the Tasmanian environment. Although aTasmanian Police investigation (36) later found no evidence to support this claim, a fox eradication program (FEP) based upon widespread buried baiting with 1080 poison was underway by 2003. Key to the claims concerning the presence, distribution and eradication of foxes in Tasmania have been evidence based on opportunistically acquired post mortem specimens, anecdotal fox sightings and scat DNA data. Eradication strategies in Tasmania were proposed using data largely extrapolated from 1080 buried baiting trials from mainland Australia.
Why yet another scientific review?
The past reviews of the FEP (36) have not attempted to systematically replicate, analyse or assess the precision of data generated by the program. Key assumptions and estimates concerning fox establishment, distribution and baiting efficacy remain untested. The potential for error to arise from techniques such as mtDNA scat surveys were not reviewed by experts in molecular biology or replicated by independent laboratories. Similarly, no detailed analysis of the use of anecdotal sightings nor the quality of opportunistically acquired physical evidence was undertaken. In contrast, our approach (32)focused upon independently testing the quality of data used by the FEP using replication via experiment, statistical and comparative analysis and detailed review of the original source materials and citations.