There has been much recent debate in Australia over whether lethal control of dingoes incurs environmental costs, particularly by allowing increase of populations of mesopredators such as red foxes and feral cats. Allen et al. (2013) claim to show in their recent study that suppression of dingo activity by poison baiting does not lead to mesopredator release, because mesopredators are also suppressed by poisoning. We show that this claim is not supported by the data and analysis reported in Allen et al.'s paper.
Tropical savannas cover 20-30% of the world's land surface and exhibit high levels of regional endemism, but the evolutionary histories of their biota remain poorly studied. The most extensive and unmodified tropical savannas occur in Northern Australia, and recent studies suggest this region supports high levels of previously undetected genetic diversity. To examine the importance of barriers to gene flow and the environmental history of Northern Australia in influencing patterns of diversity, we investigated the phylogeography of two closely related, large, vagile macropodid marsupials, the antilopine wallaroo (Macropus antilopinus; n?=?78), and the common wallaroo (Macropus robustus; n?=?21). Both species are widespread across the tropical savannas of Australia except across the Carpentarian Barrier (CB) where there is a break in the distribution of M.?antilopinus. We determined sequence variation in the hypervariable Domain I of the mitochondrial DNA control region and genotyped individuals at 12 polymorphic microsatellite loci to assess the historical and contemporary influence of the CB on these species. Surprisingly, we detected only limited differentiation between the disjunct Northern Territory and QueenslandM.?antilopinus populations. In contrast, the continuously distributedM.?robustus was highly divergent across the CB. Although unexpected, these contrasting responses appear related to minor differences in species biology. Our results suggest that vicariance may not explain well the phylogeographic patterns in Australia's dynamic monsoonal environments. This is because Quaternary environmental changes in this region have been complex, and diverse individual species' biologies have resulted in less predictable and idiosyncratic responses.
Large carnivores face serious threats and are experiencing massive declines in their populations and geographic ranges around the world. We highlight how these threats have affected the conservation status and ecological functioning of the 31 largest mammalian carnivores on Earth. Consistent with theory, empirical studies increasingly show that large carnivores have substantial effects on the structure and function of diverse ecosystems. Significant cascading trophic interactions, mediated by their prey or sympatric mesopredators, arise when some of these carnivores are extirpated from or repatriated to ecosystems. Unexpected effects of trophic cascades on various taxa and processes include changes to bird, mammal, invertebrate, and herpetofauna abundance or richness; subsidies to scavengers; altered disease dynamics; carbon sequestration; modified stream morphology; and crop damage. Promoting tolerance and coexistence with large carnivores is a crucial societal challenge that will ultimately determine the fate of Earth's largest carnivores and all that depends upon them, including humans.
Predation and fire shape the structure and function of ecosystems globally. However, studies exploring interactions between these two processes are rare, especially at large spatial scales. This knowledge gap is significant not only for ecological theory, but also in an applied context, because it limits the ability of landscape managers to predict the outcomes of manipulating fire and predators. We examined the influence of fire on the occurrence of an introduced and widespread mesopredator, the red fox (Vulpes vulpes), in semi-arid Australia. We used two extensive and complimentary datasets collected at two spatial scales. At the landscape-scale, we surveyed red foxes using sand-plots within 28 study landscapes - which incorporated variation in the diversity and proportional extent of fire-age classes - located across a 104 000 km2 study area. At the site-scale, we surveyed red foxes using camera traps at 108 sites stratified along a century-long post-fire chronosequence (0-105 years) within a 6630 km2 study area. Red foxes were widespread both at the landscape and site-scale. Fire did not influence fox distribution at either spatial scale, nor did other environmental variables that we measured. Our results show that red foxes exploit a broad range of environmental conditions within semi-arid Australia. The presence of red foxes throughout much of the landscape is likely to have significant implications for native fauna, particularly in recently burnt habitats where reduced cover may increase prey species' predation risk.
Top-order predators often have positive effects on biological diversity owing to their key functional roles in regulating trophic cascades and other ecological processes. Their loss has been identified as a major factor contributing to the decline of biodiversity in both aquatic and terrestrial systems. Consequently, restoring and maintaining the ecological function of top predators is a critical global imperative. Here we review studies of the ecological effects of the dingo Canis lupus dingo, Australias largest land predator, using this as a case study to explore the influence of a top predator on biodiversity at a continental scale. The dingo was introduced to Australia by people at least 3500 years ago and has an ambiguous status owing to its brief history on the continent, its adverse impacts on livestock production and its role as an ecosystem architect. A large body of research now indicates that dingoes regulate ecological cascades, particularly in arid Australia, and that the removal of dingoes results in an increase in the abundances and impacts of herbivores and invasive mesopredators, most notably the red fox Vulpes vulpes. The loss of dingoes has been linked to widespread losses of small and medium-sized native mammals, the depletion of plant biomass due to the effects of irrupting herbivore populations and increased predation rates by red foxes. We outline a suite of conceptual models to describe the effects of dingoes on vertebrate populations across different Australian environments. Finally, we discuss key issues that require consideration or warrant research before the ecological effects of dingoes can be incorporated formally into biodiversity conservation programs.
Invasive species are regarded as one of the top five drivers of the global extinction crisis. In response, extreme measures have been applied in an attempt to control or eradicate invasives, with little success overall. We tested the idea that state shifts to invasive dominance are symptomatic of losses in ecosystem resilience, due to the suppression of apex predators. This concept was investigated in Australia where the high rate of mammalian extinctions is largely attributed to the destructive influence of invasive species. Intensive pest control is widely applied across the continent, simultaneously eliminating Australias apex predator, the dingo (Canis lupus dingo). We show that predator management accounts for shifts between two main ecosystem states. Lethal control fractures dingo social structure and leads to bottom-up driven increases in invasive mesopredators and herbivores. Where control is relaxed, dingoes re-establish top-down regulation of ecosystems, allowing for the recovery of biodiversity and productivity.
There is growing recognition of the important roles played by predators in regulating ecosystems and sustaining biodiversity. Much attention has focused on the consequences of predator-regulation of herbivore populations, and associated trophic cascades. However apex predators may also control smaller mesopredators through intraguild interactions. Removal of apex predators can result in changes to intraguild interactions and outbreaks of mesopredators (mesopredator release), leading in turn to increased predation on smaller prey. Here we provide a review and synthesis of studies of predator interactions, mesopredator release and their impacts on biodiversity. Mesopredator suppression by apex predators is widespread geographically and taxonomically. Apex predators suppress mesopredators both by killing them, or instilling fear, which motivates changes in behaviour and habitat use that limit mesopredator distribution and abundance. Changes in the abundance of apex predators may have disproportionate (up to fourfold) effects on mesopredator abundance. Outcomes of interactions between predators may however vary with resource availability, habitat complexity and the complexity of predator communities. There is potential for the restoration of apex predators to have benefits for biodiversity conservation through moderation of the impacts of mesopredators on their prey, but this requires a whole-ecosystem view to avoid unforeseen negative effects. Nothing has changed since I began. My eye has permitted no change. I am going to keep things like this. From Hawk Roosting, by Ted Hughes.
Population control of socially complex species may have profound ecological implications that remain largely invisible if only their abundance is considered. Here we discuss the effects of control on a socially complex top-order predator, the dingo (Canis lupus dingo). Since European occupation of Australia, dingoes have been controlled over much of the continent. Our aim was to investigate the effects of control on their abundance and social stability. We hypothesized that dingo abundance and social stability are not linearly related, and proposed a theoretical model in which dingo populations may fluctuate between three main states: (A) below carrying capacity and socially fractured, (B) above carrying capacity and socially fractured, or (C) at carrying capacity and socially stable. We predicted that lethal control would drive dingoes into the unstable states A or B, and that relaxation of control would allow recovery towards C. We tested our predictions by surveying relative abundance (track density) and indicators of social stability (scent-marking and howling) at seven sites in the arid zone subject to differing degrees of control. We also monitored changes in dingo abundance and social stability following relaxation and intensification of control. Sites where dingoes had been controlled within the previous two years were characterized by low scent-marking activity, but abundance was similar at sites with and without control. Signs of social stability steadily increased the longer an area was allowed to recover from control, but change in abundance did not follow a consistent path. Comparison of abundance and stability among all sites and years demonstrated that control severely fractures social groups, but that the effect of control on abundance was neither consistent nor predictable. Management decisions involving large social predators must therefore consider social stability to ensure their conservation and ecological functioning.
1. Much recent research has focused on the use of species distribution models to explore the influence(s) of environment (predominantly climate) on species distributions. A weakness of this approach is that it typically does not consider effects of biotic interactions, including competition, on species distributions. 2. Here we identify and quantify the contribution of environmental factors relative to biotic factors (interspecific competition) to the distribution and abundance of three large, wide-ranging herbivores, the antilopine wallaroo (Macropus antilopinus), common wallaroo (Macropus robustus) and eastern grey kangaroo (Macropus giganteus), across an extensive zone of sympatry in tropical northern Australia. 3. To assess the importance of competition relative to habitat features, we constructed models of abundance for each species incorporating habitat only and habitat + the abundance of the other species, and compared their respective likelihoods using Akaikes information criterion. We further assessed the importance of variables predicting abundance across models for each species. 4. The best-supported models of antilopine wallaroo and eastern grey kangaroo abundance included both habitat and the abundance of the other species, providing evidence of interspecific competition. Contrastingly, models of common wallaroo abundance were largely influenced by climate and not the abundance of other species. The abundance of antilopine wallaroos was most influenced by water availability, eastern grey kangaroo abundance and the frequency of late season fires. The abundance of eastern grey kangaroos was most influenced by aspects of climate, antilopine wallaroo abundance and a measure of cattle abundance. 5. Our study demonstrates that where census and habitat data are available, it is possible to reveal species interactions (and measure their relative strength and direction) between large, mobile and/or widely-distributed species for which competition is difficult to demonstrate experimentally. This allows discrimination of the influences of environmental factors and species interactions on species distributions, and should therefore improve the predictive power of species distribution models.
Recent advances highlight the potential for predators to restore ecosystems and confer resilience against globally threatening processes, including climate change and biological invasions. However, releasing the ecological benefits of predators entails significant challenges. Here, we discuss the economic, environmental and social considerations affecting predator-driven ecological restoration programmes, and suggest approaches for reducing the undesirable impacts of predators. Because the roles of predators are context dependent, we argue for increased emphasis on predator functionality in ecosystems and less on the identities and origins of species and genotypes. We emphasise that insufficient attention is currently given to the importance of variation in the social structures and behaviours of predators in influencing the dynamics of trophic interactions. Lastly, we outline experiments specifically designed to clarify the ecological roles of predators and their potential utility in ecosystem restoration.
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