Drivers of the Australian native pet trade: the role of species traits, socioeconomic attributes and regulatory systems

Adam Toomes*, Pablo Garcia Diaz, Oliver Stringham, Joshua V. Ross, Lewis Mitchell, Phillip Cassey

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
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The pet trade is a major driver of both biodiversity loss and the introduction of invasive alien species. Building a comprehensive understanding of the pet trade would improve prediction of conservation and biosecurity threats, with the aim to prevent further negative impacts.
We used South Australia’s native wildlife permit reporting system as a data-rich example of a vertebrate pet market, spanning 590 distinct taxa across 105 families of terrestrial vertebrates (mammals, reptiles, birds and amphibians). Using a piecewise Structural Equation Modelling (SEM) approach, we tested the influence of 11 a priori variables relating to pets (e.g., species traits), pet owners (e.g., socioeconomic metrics), and regulatory systems (e.g., permit requirements) on the quantities of captive pet keeping, breeding, trading, and escapes into the wild.
Birds and reptiles with higher annual fecundity were more likely to be kept in captivity and birds with larger adult mass were more likely to be sold. Species with more stringent permit requirements were possessed and escaped, in lower abundances. Pet keeping was weakly correlated with regions of lower human population densities and higher unemployment rates, yet all socioeconomic variables were ultimately poor at explaining trade dynamics.
More escapes occurred in regions that possessed larger quantities of pets, further emphasising the role of propagule pressure in the risk of pet escapes.
Synthesis and applications: Species traits are a strong determinant of native pet trade dynamics, yet permit systems also play a key role in de-incentivising undesirable trade practices. While our research highlighted the positive potential of trade regulatory systems, we recommend that consistent permit category criteria are established to reduce trade in threatened species as well as invasive alien species of high biosecurity risk.

Implementation of such systems is broadly needed across a greater diversity of wildlife markets and jurisdictions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to) 1268-1278
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Applied Ecology
Issue number5
Early online date24 Feb 2022
Publication statusPublished - 3 May 2022

Bibliographical note

We acknowledge that the land on which we conducted our research is the traditional land of the Kaurna people of the Adelaide Plains. We pay our respects to Kaurna elders past, present and emerging. We thank the South Australian Department for the Environment and Water for recording and facilitating access to all permit data used in our analysis. This research was funded by the Centre for Invasive Species Solutions (Project P01-I-002). PC was supported by an Australian Research Council Discovery grant (DP210103050). PG-D was supported by the NERC grant NE/S011641/1 under the Newton LATAM funding programme.

Data Availability Statement

The raw data used in our analysis were collected by the South Australia Department for Environment and Water and contain potentially confidential information. Therefore, these data have not been archived. We have published a summary dataset used in our statistical analysis, which contains the total possessions, breeding, sales and escapes for each species/subspecies, as well as collated species attributes and regulatory status, in Figshare. (Toomes et al., 2021).

Additional supporting information may be found in the online version of the article at the publisher’s website.


  • Biosecurity
  • exotic pets
  • invasive alien species
  • pet trade
  • trade dynamics
  • threatened species
  • wildlife trade


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