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Keywords:

  • Australia;
  • biodiversity;
  • conservation;
  • dingo;
  • keystone species;
  • landscape;
  • mesopredator;
  • predation;
  • top predator;
  • trophic cascade

ABSTRACT

Aim  We examined evidence for the mesopredator release hypothesis at a subcontinental scale by investigating the relationship between indices of abundance of the dingo Canis lupus dingo (top-order predator) and the invasive red fox Vulpes vulpes (mesopredator) in three large regions across mainland Australia. The red fox is known to be one of the major threats to the persistence of small and medium-sized native vertebrates across the continent.

Location  Australia.

Methods  Indices of abundance were calculated from three independently collected datasets derived from bounty returns and field surveys. Data were analysed using univariate parametric, semi-parametric and nonparametric techniques.

Results  Predator abundance indices did not conform to a normal distribution and the relationships between dingo and fox abundance indices were not well described by linear functions. Semi-parametric and nonparametric techniques revealed consistently negative associations between indices of dingo and fox abundance.

Main conclusions  The results provide evidence that mesopredator suppression by a top predator can be exerted at very large geographical scales and suggest that relationships between the abundances of top predators and mesopredators are not linear. Our results have broad implications for the management of canid predators. First, they suggest that dingoes function ecologically to reduce the activity or abundance of red foxes and thus are likely to dampen the predatory impacts of foxes. More generally, they provide support for the notion that the mesopredator-suppressive effects of top predators could be incorporated into broad-scale biodiversity conservation programmes in many parts of the world by actively maintaining populations of top predators or restoring them in areas where they are now rare. Determining the population densities at which the interactions of top predators become ecologically effective will be a critical goal for conservation managers who aim to maintain or restore ecosystems using the ecological interactions of top predators.