Know thy enemy: Behavioural response of a native mammal (Rattus lutreolus velutinus) to predators of different coexistence histories



Abstract  Predation is recognized as a major selective pressure influencing population dynamics and evolutionary processes. Prey species have developed a variety of predator avoidance strategies, not least of which is olfactory recognition. However, within Australia, European settlement has brought with it a number of introduced predators, perhaps most notably the red fox (Vulpes vulpes) and domestic cat (Felis catus), which native prey species may be unable to recognize and thus avoid due to a lack of coexistence history. This study examined the response of native Tasmanian swamp rats (Rattus lutreolus velutinus) to predators of different coexistence history (native predator- spotted-tail quoll (Dasyurus maculatus), domestic cats and the recently introduced red fox). We used an aggregate behavioural response of R. l. velutinus to predator integumental odour in order to assess an overall behavioural response to predation risk. Rattus lutreolus velutinus recognized the integumental odour of the native quoll (compared with control odours) but did not respond to either cat or fox scent (compared with control odur). In contrast, analyses of singular behaviours resulted in the conclusion that rats did not respond differentially to either native or introduced predators, as other studies have concluded. Therefore, measuring risk assessment behaviours at the level of overall aggregate response may be more beneficial in understanding and analysing complex behavioural patterns such as predator detection and recognition. These results suggest that fox and cat introductions (and their interactive effects) may have detrimental impacts upon small native Tasmanian mammals due to lack of recognition and thus appropriate responses.