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Optimising the long term control of invasive American mink in Patagonia to protect livelihoods and native biodiversity


Project Description

A large number of highly damaging invasive non-native species (INNS) have become established worldwide and the problem is particularly acute in southern South America where many INNS are now so widespread that eradication is not an option. Controlling INNS for the long term to protect native species and livelihoods must be done as cost effectively as possible, and consider:

By how much should INNS density be reduced? This depends on the resources available for management and on the relationship between the abundance of the focal INNS and the harm it causes to people and biodiversity.

How should the desired reduction be achieved? Using professional staff is expensive but relying on citizen scientists for long term control necessitates ongoing investment in motivating people.

Where should the species be reduced? The areas invaded by INNS are often vast and spatial prioritisation is necessary. INNS are not equally damaging in all areas. Some ecosystems and human activities can withstand low density INNS presence, while others are so vulnerable they cannot tolerate even low INNS density. An example is the critically endangered hooded grebe in Austral Patagonia, driven to near extinction by the introduced American mink. The cost of managing INNS also varies spatially, especially in South America, where some areas are very difficult to access and the workforce is sparse. A further important consideration is that INNS such as American mink are mobile. They have been able to spread when they first invaded, and can re-invade areas from which they have been removed through dispersal. This is both a challenge and an opportunity if management can exploit known patterns of spread. For instance, it may be possible to deplete a mobile INNS such as the American mink by intensively removing it from a small, highly attractive area, hence cost-effectively “vacuuming” a much larger area.

This studentship will work in close collaboration with an existing pioneering mink control project that has achieved outstanding outcomes in the Los Rios region of southern Chile by capitalising on the willingness of local farmers to control mink to protect their poultry. It will combine experimental removal and assessment of the benefits to native species and rural livelihoods in Chile, with assessment of dispersal using molecular methods and modelling of the reinvasion process. The fully funded position open to any EU citizen offers a unique opportunity to work with an international multidisciplinary team with partners from the UK, Chile, Argentina and Brazil to design and evaluate INNS control solutions using an adaptive management approach.

This PhD is suitable for an adventurous conservation ecologist eager to learn quantitative techniques and who would thrive in in an interdisciplinary environment. The candidate must be willing to actively engage with a team of conservation ecologists from the UK and South America including field ecologists, economists and agent-based modellers. The student will benefit from bespoke training in Bayesian statistics and modelling techniques. The student will spend approximately 50 % of the time in southern Chile, working with local practitioners and scientists from the Wetland centre http://www.cehum.org/ in Valdivia, Southern Chile and be willing to learn Spanish.

Funding Notes

This is a funded studentship which includes fees, stipend & RTSG.

References

Melero Y, Cornulier T, Oliver MK, Lambin X. (2018) Ecological traps for large-scale invasive species control: Predicting
settling rules by recolonising American mink post-culling. Journal of Applied Ecology 55, (4) 769-1779
Melero Y; Oliver MK and X Lambin (2017) Relationship type affects the reliability of dispersal distance estimated using
pedigree inferences in partially sampled populations: a case study involving invasive American mink in Scotland.
Molecular Ecology 26:4059–4071
Oliver MK;, SB Piertney; A Zalewski; Y Melero; and X Lambin (2016) The compensatory potential of increased
immigration following intensive American mink population control is diluted by male-biased dispersal. Biological
Invasions 18(10), 3047-3061
Bryce, R; Oliver, MK; Davies, L; Gray, H; Urquhart, J and X Lambin (2011) Turning back the tide of American mink
invasion at an unprecedented scale through community participation and adaptive management. Biological
Conservation 144, 575–583
Fasola, L. and Roesler, I. (2018). 'A familiar face with a novel behavior raises challenges for conservation: American
mink in arid Patagonia and a critically endangered bird'. Biol. Conserv. 218:217–222
Fasola, L. and Roesler, I. (2016). 'Invasive predator control program in Austral Patagonia for endangered bird
conservation'. Eur. J. Wildl. Manag. 62:601–608

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