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Feeling Vulnerable? Indirect Risk Cues Differently Influence How Two Marsupials Respond to Novel Dingo Urine


Michael H. Parsons, School of Veterinary Biology and Biomedical Sciences, Murdoch University, South Street, Murdoch 6150, Australia.


In Tasmania, introduced predators are becoming more common. How Tasmanian prey respond to novel predator cues is of particular interest for their survival and management. Prey response to predator scents may depend on whether predator and prey share an evolutionary history and may be influenced by indirect risk cues such as perceived shelter or safety in the environment. To simultaneously explore the effects of indirect and direct risk cues (predator scent) on free-living Tasmanian pademelons (Thylogale billardierii) and brush tail possums (Trichosurus vulpecula), we placed dingo (Canis lupus dingo) urine scents inside and outside a 25 -m2 selective feeding enclosure to mimic a heterogeneous risk landscape. Despite the lack of a historical relationship between dingoes and Tasmanian fauna, pademelons and possums demonstrated flight and vigilance when confronted with the novel scent outside the enclosure. According to our index of deterrence, number of successful entries/approaches, both species were deterred. However, responses inside the safe enclosure differed according to species. For instance, pademelons made more approaches/entries into the enclosure and fled more following approaches to scent marks both inside and outside the enclosure. In comparison, possums only exhibited similar responses outside the enclosure, and there was no effect of stimulus inside the safe compound. Our findings suggest that small animals may be pre-adapted to avoid some predators they have not previously been in contact with, and that brush tail possums are more likely to respond to predation cues when exposed and vulnerable. Ultimately, the cumulative effects of direct and indirect risk cues may either increase or reduce a repellent response.

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