Reversed sexual dimorphism and altered prey base: the effect on sooty owl (Tyto tenebricosa tenebricosa) diet.
Bilney, R. J.; White, J. G.; Cooke, R.
School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Deakin University, 221 Burwood Highway, Burwood, Vic. 3125, Australia.
Australian Journal of Zoology 2011 Vol. 59 No. 5 pp. 302-311
CSIRO, Collingwood, Australia
Language of Text
The ecology and function of many Australian predators has likely been disrupted following major changes in prey base due to declines in distribution and abundance of small mammals following European settlement. This study investigated various aspects of the dietary ecology of sooty owls (Tyto tenebricosa tenebricosa), including sexual variation as they potentially exhibit the greatest degree of reversed sexual dimorphism of any owl species worldwide. Sooty owls are highly opportunistic predators of non-volant small mammals, consuming most species known to exist in the region, so their diet fluctuates seasonally and spatially due to varying prey availability, and is particularly influenced by the breeding cycles of prey. Significant intersexual dietary differences existed with female sooty owls predominantly consuming much larger prey items than males, with dietary overlap at 0.62. The current reliance on relatively few native mammalian species is of conservation concern, especially when mammal declines are unlikely to have ceased as many threatening processes still persist in the landscape. Sooty owl conservation appears inextricably linked with small mammal conservation. Conservation efforts should be focussed towards improving prey densities and prey habitat, primarily by implementing control programs for feral predators and preventing the loss of hollow-bearing trees throughout the landscape.