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Top carnivore decline has cascading effects on scavengers and carrion persistence

Citation

Cunningham, CX and Johnson, CN and Barmuta, LA and Hollings, T and Woehler, EJ and Jones, ME, Top carnivore decline has cascading effects on scavengers and carrion persistence, Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 285, (1892) Article 20181582. ISSN 0962-8452 (2018) [Refereed Article]

Copyright Statement

Copyright 2018 The Authors

DOI: doi:10.1098/rspb.2018.1582

Abstract

Top carnivores have suffered widespread global declines, with well-documented effects on mesopredators and herbivores. We know less about how carnivores affect ecosystems through scavenging. Tasmania's top carnivore, the Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii), has suffered severe disease-induced population declines, providing a natural experiment on the role of scavenging in structuring communities. Using remote cameras and experimentally placed carcasses, we show that mesopredators consume more carrion in areas where devils have declined. Carcass consumption by the two native mesopredators was best predicted by competition for carrion, whereas consumption by the invasive mesopredator, the feral cat (Felis catus), was better predicted by the landscape-level abundance of devils, suggesting a relaxed landscape of fear where devils are suppressed. Reduced discovery of carcasses by devils was balanced by the increased discovery by mesopredators. Nonetheless, carcasses persisted approximately 2.6-fold longer where devils have declined, highlighting their importance for rapid carrion removal. The major beneficiary of increased carrion availability was the forest raven (Corvus tasmanicus). Population trends of ravens increased 2.2-fold from 1998 to 2017, the period of devil decline, but this increase occurred Tasmania-wide, making the cause unclear. This case study provides a little-studied potential mechanism for mesopredator release, with broad relevance to the vast areas of the world that have suffered carnivore declines.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:top carnivore, carrion, scavengers, feral cat
Research Division:Biological Sciences
Research Group:Ecology
Research Field:Community Ecology
Objective Division:Environment
Objective Group:Control of Pests, Diseases and Exotic Species
Objective Field:Control of Pests, Diseases and Exotic Species at Regional or Larger Scales
UTAS Author:Cunningham, CX (Mr Calum Cunningham)
UTAS Author:Johnson, CN (Professor Christopher Johnson)
UTAS Author:Barmuta, LA (Associate Professor Leon Barmuta)
UTAS Author:Woehler, EJ (Dr Eric Woehler)
UTAS Author:Jones, ME (Associate Professor Menna Jones)
ID Code:130297
Year Published:2018
Funding Support:Australian Research Council (DP110103069)
Web of Science® Times Cited:1
Deposited By:Zoology
Deposited On:2019-01-18
Last Modified:2019-03-08
Downloads:0

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