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Terrestrial mesopredators did not increase after top-predator removal in a large-scale experimental test of mesopredator release theory

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Castle, G., Smith, D., Allen, L. R. and Allen, B. L. (2021) Terrestrial mesopredators did not increase after top-predator removal in a large-scale experimental test of mesopredator release theory. Scientific Reports, 11 (1). p. 18205. ISSN 2045-2322


Article Link: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-97634-4


Removal or loss of top-predators has been predicted to cause cascading negative effects for ecosystems, including mesopredator release. However, reliable evidence for these processes in terrestrial systems has been mixed and equivocal due, in large part, to the systemic and continued use of low-inference study designs to investigate this issue. Even previous large-scale manipulative experiments of strong inferential value have been limited by experimental design features (i.e. failure to prevent migration between treatments) that constrain possible inferences about the presence or absence of mesopredator release effects. Here, we build on these previous strong-inference experiments and report the outcomes of additional large-scale manipulative experiments to eradicate Australian dingoes from two fenced areas where dingo migration was restricted and where theory would predict an increase in extant European red foxes, feral cats and goannas. We demonstrate the removal and suppression of dingoes to undetectable levels over 4–5 years with no corresponding increases in mesopredator relative abundances, which remained low and stable throughout the experiment at both sites. We further demonstrate widespread absence of negative relationships between predators, indicating that the mechanism underpinning predicted mesopredator releases was not present. Our results are consistent with all previous large-scale manipulative experiments and long-term mensurative studies which collectively demonstrate that (1) dingoes do not suppress red foxes, feral cats or goannas at the population level, (2) repeated, temporary suppression of dingoes in open systems does not create mesopredator release effects, and (3) removal and sustained suppression of dingoes to undetectable levels in closed systems does not create mesopredator release effects either. Our experiments add to similar reports from North America, Asia, Europe and southern Africa which indicate that not only is there a widespread absence of reliable evidence for these processes, but there is also a large and continually growing body of experimental evidence of absence for these processes in many terrestrial systems. We conclude that although sympatric predators may interact negatively with each other on smaller spatiotemporal scales, that these negative interactions do not always scale-up to the population level, nor are they always strong enough to create mesopredator suppression or release effects.

Item Type:Article
Business groups:Biosecurity Queensland
Additional Information:Open access
Subjects:Science > Invasive Species > Animals
Science > Zoology > Animal behaviour
Agriculture > Agriculture (General) > Agricultural ecology (General)
Live Archive:20 Sep 2021 07:16
Last Modified:20 Sep 2021 07:16

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