Population and behavioural responses of native prey to alien predation

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Journal Article
Oecologia, 2012, 168 (4), pp. 947 - 957
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The introduction of invasive alien predators often has catastrophic effects on populations of naïve native prey, but in situations where prey survive the initial impact a predator may act as a strong selective agent for prey that can discriminate and avoid it. Using two common species of Australian small mammals that have persisted in the presence of an alien predator, the European red fox Vulpes vulpes, for over a century, we hypothesised that populations of both would perform better where the activity of the predator was low than where it was high and that prey individuals would avoid signs of the predator's presence. We found no difference in prey abundance in sites with high and low fox activity, but survival of one species-the bush rat Rattus fuscipes-was almost twofold higher where fox activity was low. Juvenile, but not adult rats, avoided fox odour on traps, as did individuals of the second prey species, the brown antechinus, Antechinus stuartii. Both species also showed reduced activity at foraging trays bearing fox odour in giving-up density (GUD) experiments, although GUDs and avoidance of fox odour declined over time. Young rats avoided fox odour more strongly where fox activity was high than where it was low, but neither adult R. fuscipes nor A. stuartii responded differently to different levels of fox activity. Conservation managers often attempt to eliminate alien predators or to protect predator-naïve prey in protected reserves. Our results suggest that, if predator pressure can be reduced, otherwise susceptible prey may survive the initial impact of an alien predator, and experience selection to discriminate cues to its presence and avoid it over the longer term. Although predator reduction is often feasible, identifying the level of reduction that will conserve prey and allow selection for avoidance remains an important challenge. © 2011 Springer-Verlag.
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