Activity and social interactions in a wideranging specialist scavenger, the Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii), revealed by animalborne video collars
Andersen, GE and McGregor, HW and Johnson, CN and Jones, ME, Activity and social interactions in a wideranging specialist scavenger, the Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii), revealed by animalborne video collars, PLOS ONE, 15, (3) Article e0230216. ISSN 1932-6203 (2020) [Refereed Article]
Observing animals directly in the field provides the most accurate understanding of animal behaviour and resource selection. However, making prolonged observation of undisturbed animals is difficult or impossible for many species. To overcome this problem for the Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii), a cryptic and nocturnal carnivore, we developed animal-borne video collars to investigate activity patterns, foraging behaviour and social interactions. We collected 173 hours of footage from 13 individual devils between 2013 and 2017. Devils were active mostly at night, and resting was the most common behaviour in all diel periods. Devils spent more time scavenging than hunting and exhibited opportunistic and flexible foraging behaviours. Scavenging occurred mostly in natural vegetation but also in anthropogenic vegetation and linear features (roads and fence lines). Scavenging frequency was inversely incremental with size e.g. small carcasses were scavenged most frequently. Agonistic interactions with conspecifics occurred most often when devils were traveling but also occurred over carcasses or dens. Interactions generally involved vocalisations and brief chases without physical contact. Our results highlight the importance of devils as a scavenger in the Tasmanian ecosystem, not just of large carcasses for which devils are well known but in cleaning up small items of carrion in the bush. Our results also show the complex nature of intraspecific interactions, revealing greater detail on the context in which interactions occur. In addition, this study demonstrates the benefits of using animal-borne imaging in quantifying behaviour of elusive, nocturnal carnivores not previously seen using conventional field methods.