Taste overshadows less salient cues to elicit food aversion in endangered marsupial

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Journal Article
Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 2018, 209 pp. 83 - 87
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© 2018 Elsevier B.V. Conditioned taste aversion is an emerging conservation tool that can be used to limit inter-species conflict, for example decreasing predation on endangered species, or limiting the consumption of invasive toxic prey. Typically, managers wish to elicit an aversion that will be associated with visual or odour cues so that the target species maintains an “arm's length” relationship, and does not have to attack or taste the prey. Combining multiple cues in conditioned taste aversion can cause cue overshadowing, so reducing the effectiveness of the training. Here, we examine the northern quoll (Dasyurus hallucatus), a carnivorous marsupial threatened because they attack the toxic invasive cane toad (Rhinella marina). Conditioned taste aversion has been suggested as a way to reduce quoll's predation on toads, but for training to be effective it must elicit an aversion to stimuli before the quolls attack the toad. Using baits containing distinct novel meat, odour and visual cues, we test whether quolls will generalise their aversion to visual or odour cues. We found that quolls associate their aversion with the compound stimulus of meat taste and meat odour, and that this overshadows the less salient artificial odour and visual cues. Quolls ate 87% of taste cue substituted baits, compared to 38% and 42% of the odour and visual cue substituted baits respectively, which represented a significant interaction between bait type and substituted cue (χ2(4) = 14.70, p = 0.005). We show that although quolls do not generalise their aversions to novel artificial stimuli, they can distinguish subtle visual and odour cues in meat that still elicit an aversion without them needing to attack and taste prey.
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