Does a top-predator provide an endangered rodent with refuge from an invasive mesopredator?


M. Letnic, Institute of Wildlife Research, School of Biological Sciences, University of Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia.


In arid environments, ecological refuges are often conceptualised as places where animal species can persist through drought owing to the localised persistence of moisture and nutrients. The mesopredator release hypothesis (MRH) predicts that reduced abundance of top-order predators results in an increase in the abundance of smaller predators (mesopredators) and consequently has detrimental impacts on the prey of the smaller predators. Thus according to the MRH, the existence of larger predators may provide prey with refuge from predation. In this study, we investigated how the abundance of an endangered rodent Notomys fuscus is affected by Australia's largest predator, the dingo Canis lupus dingo, introduced mesopredators, introduced herbivores, kangaroos and rainfall. Our surveys showed that N. fuscus was more abundant where dingoes occurred. Generalised linear modelling showed that N. fuscus abundance was associated positively with dingo activity and long-term annual rainfall and negatively with red fox Vulpes vulpes activity. Our results were consistent with the hypothesis that areas with higher rainfall and dingoes provide N. fuscus with refuge from drought and predation by invasive red foxes, respectively. Top-order predators, such as dingoes, could have an important functional role in broad-scale biodiversity conservation programmes by reducing the impacts of mesopredators.