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Relaxation of risk-sensitive behaviour of prey following disease-induced decline of an apex predator, the Tasmanian devil


Hollings, T and McCallum, H and Kreger, K and Mooney, N and Jones, M, Relaxation of risk-sensitive behaviour of prey following disease-induced decline of an apex predator, the Tasmanian devil, Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 282, (1810) pp. 1-9. ISSN 0962-8452 (2015) [Refereed Article]

Copyright Statement

© 2015 The Author(s)

DOI: doi:10.1098/rspb.2015.0124


Apex predators structure ecosystems through lethal and non-lethal interactions with prey, and their global decline is causing loss of ecological function. Behavioural changes of prey are some of the most rapid responses to predator decline and may act as an early indicator of cascading effects. The Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii), an apex predator, is undergoing progressive and extensive population decline, of more than 90% in long-diseased areas, caused by a novel disease. Time since local disease outbreak correlates with devil population declines and thus predation risk. We used hair traps and giving-up densities (GUDs) in food patches to test whether a major prey species of devils, the arboreal common brushtail possum (Trichosurus vulpecula), is responsive to the changing risk of predation when they forage on the ground. Possums spend more time on the ground, discover food patches faster and forage more to a lower GUD with increasing years since disease outbreak and greater devil population decline. Loss of top–down effects of devils with respect to predation risk was evident at 90% devil population decline, with possum behaviour indistinguishable from a devil-free island. Alternative predators may help to maintain risk-sensitive anti-predator behaviours in possums while devil populations remain low.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:giving-up densities, Tasmanian devil, brushtail possum, devil facial tumour disease, antipredator behaviour, apex predator loss
Research Division:Biological Sciences
Research Group:Zoology
Research Field:Animal behaviour
Objective Division:Expanding Knowledge
Objective Group:Expanding knowledge
Objective Field:Expanding knowledge in the biological sciences
UTAS Author:Hollings, T (Miss Tracey Hollings)
UTAS Author:Kreger, K (Miss Kaely Kreger)
UTAS Author:Jones, M (Professor Menna Jones)
ID Code:106727
Year Published:2015
Web of Science® Times Cited:15
Deposited By:Zoology
Deposited On:2016-02-18
Last Modified:2017-11-01

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