Do dingoes suppress the activity of feral cats in northern Australia?



Large predators can have profound impacts on community composition. Not only do they directly affect prey abundance, they also indirectly affect prey abundance through their direct effects on smaller predators. In Australia, dingoes fill the role of a large predator and, in southern Australia, have clear impacts on introduced foxes. Their effect on introduced cats, however, is less clear. Here we present data from multiple sites across northern Australia (where foxes are absent), which reveal a negative correlation between cat and dingo activity. This relationship could arise because cats avoid areas where dingoes are active, or because cats are less abundant in areas with high dingo densities, or a combination of both. At a subset of our study sites, we experimentally reduced dingo (but not cat) abundance by poison baiting. This resulted in a 55% drop in dingo activity within 4 weeks of baiting, but without a compensatory increase in cat activity. This suggests the negative correlation between cat and dingo activity is not a simple consequence of cats reactively avoiding areas with higher dingo traffic, but rather, that there are fewer cats in areas where dingoes are more active. This study is a rare demonstration of the potential for dingoes to affect the behaviour and potentially the population size of feral cats, and therefore reduce the impact of feral cats on vulnerable native prey species.