Do Australian small mammals respond to native and introduced predator odours?

Coevolution is thought to have led to many small mammal species avoiding the scent marks of their main mammalian predators, as they provide a reliable cue to predation risk. Most support for this hypothesis comes from northern hemisphere predator/prey systems, however, it is unclear whether this avoidance of predator faecal odour occurs in Australia’s mammalian fauna, which has evolved in relative isolation from the rest of the world, and is dominated by marsupials rather than placentals. We tested this theory for an Australian system with marsupial and placental predators and prey, that share a long-term (>1 million years) or short-term (<150 years) exposure to each other. The predators were the native marsupial tiger quoll Dasyurus maculatus and the introduced placental red fox Vulpes vulpes. The potential prey were three native rodent species, the bush rat Rattus fuscipes, the swamp rat Rattus lutreolus, the eastern chestnut mouse Pseudomys gracilicaudatus, and the marsupial brown antechinus Antechinus stuartii. Small mammals were captured in Elliott traps with 1/3 of traps treated with fox faeces, 1/3 treated with quoll faeces and the remainder left untreated. The native rodent species all showed avoidance of both tiger quoll and red fox odours whereas the marsupial antechinus showed no responses to either odour. Either predator odour avoidance has not evolved in this marsupial or their reaction to predator odours may be exhibited in ways which are not recognizable through trapping. The avoidance by the rodents of fox odour as well as quoll odour indicates this response may either be due to common components in fox and quoll odour, or it may be a recently evolved response.

Date null
Year 2007
Secondary title Austral Ecology
Volume 32
Number 3
Institution University of New South Wales
Department School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Scie
Pages 277-286
Notes Notes
Region Australia - national