The perils of paradise: An endangered species conserved on an island loses antipredator behaviours within 13 generations

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Journal Article
Biology Letters, 2018, 14 (6)
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© 2018 The Author(s) Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved. When imperilled by a threatening process, the choice is often made to conserve threatened species on offshore islands that typically lack the full suite of mainland predators. While keeping the species extant, this releases the conserved population from predator-driven natural selection. Antipredator traits are no longer maintained by natural selection and may be lost. It is implicitly assumed that such trait loss will happen slowly, but there are few empirical tests. In Australia, northern quolls (Dasyurus hallucatus) were moved onto a predator-free offshore island in 2003 to protect the species from the arrival of invasive cane toads on the mainland. We compared the antipredator behaviours of wild-caught quolls from the predator-rich mainland with those from this predator-free island. We compared the responses of both wild-caught animals and their captive-born offspring, to olfactory cues of two of their major predators (feral cats and dingoes). Wild-caught, mainland quolls recognized and avoided predator scents, as did their captive-born offspring. Island quolls, isolated from these predators for only 13 generations, showed no recognition or aversion to these predators. This study suggests that predator aversion behaviours can be lost very rapidly, and that this may make a population unsuitable for reintroduction to a predator-rich mainland.
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