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Eaten out of house and home: local extinction of Abrolhos painted button-quail Turnix varius scintillans due to invasive mice, herbivores and rainfall decline


Island avifauna suffer high rates of extinction and decline. North Island in the Houtman Abrolhos Archipelago, Western Australia, supports one of three populations of the Abrolhos Painted Button-quail (Turnix varius scintillans), a subspecies determined to be the 5th most likely taxon to become extinct in Australia. T. v. scintillans were last recorded on North Island in 2006. Vegetation declines on North Island due to introduced tammar wallabies (Notamacropus eugenii derbianus) and predation by introduced house mice (Mus musculus) are implicated as major threats. Between 2018 and 2021, 12,820 camera trap-nights on North Island failed to detect any signs of T. v. scintillans, suggesting local extinction. We deployed rodent chew cards at each camera site and analysed rainfall and vegetation cover data to identify potential causes of decline. Vegetation cover change was related to tammar wallaby density and was highly correlated with rainfall (r2 = 0.75). At the time of the last button-quail sighting in 2006, tammar wallaby numbers were at their peak, and annual rainfall was near its lowest level. Introduced tammar wallabies and house mice in tandem with reduced rainfall have likely resulted in degradation of habitat critical for T. v. scintillans, which is now confined to just two islands. Preventing further introductions of mice, rats and feral cats is a high priority for limiting further declines of this subspecies.

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The datasets generated during and/or analysed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.


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We are grateful to the logistical and financial support of the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, Midwest especially A. Desmond, I. Hatch, S. Moore and C. Aston, and to the DBCA Woodvale centre for the lending of equipment.


This work was supported by postgraduate funding to R. Carter from Edith Cowan University. Logisitcal and field support was provided by the Midwest Region office of the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions.

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All authors contributed to the study conception and design. Data collection and analysis were performed by Ryan Carter. GIS analyses were undertaken by Ryan Carter, Ricky van Dongen and Jane Chapman. The first draft of the manuscript was written by Ryan Carter and all authors commented on previous versions of the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to R. A. Davis.

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The authors have no relevant financial or non-financial interests to disclose.

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All work with animals was approved under ECU Animal Ethics Approval 23679.

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Carter, R.S., Lohr, C.A., Burbidge, A.H. et al. Eaten out of house and home: local extinction of Abrolhos painted button-quail Turnix varius scintillans due to invasive mice, herbivores and rainfall decline. Biol Invasions 25, 1119–1132 (2023).

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