Temporal and spatial trends in the abundances of an apex predator, introduced mesopredator and ground-nesting bird are consistent with the mesopredator release hypothesis.
Apex predator extirpation has been identified as a key driver of biodiversity losses. The mesopredator release hypothesis (MRH) predicts that reduced abundance of apex predators results in an increase in the abundance and predatory impact of mesopredators. Here we test predictions made according to the MRH that an apex predator, the dingo (Canis dingo), benefits a small ground-nesting bird, the little button-quail (Turnix velox), by reducing the abundance of introduced mesopredators, the red fox (Vulpes vulpes) and feral cat (Felis catus). We also examined an alternative hypothesis that herbivore grazing negatively affects little button-quail abundance by reducing ground cover. To test our predictions we compared dingo, mesopredator, quail, herbivore and ground cover abundances and predator diets over a 25 month period and across a 10,000 km2 region encompassing areas where dingoes were common and rare, pastoral properties, and conservation reserves. Little button-quails were primarily observed where dingoes were common and foxes rare. Cats were detected at low numbers throughout the sample area irrespective of the index abundance of little button-quails, dingoes or foxes. Birds occurred less frequently in dingo than fox or cat scats. Ground cover and herbivore grazing activity were poor correlates of little button-quail abundance. Our results are consistent with the hypothesis that apex predators' mesopredator-suppressive effects translate to population-level benefits for a ground-nesting bird. Positive associations between the abundances of dingoes and small-prey species suggests that positive management of dingoes could be incorporated into broad-scale biodiversity conservation programs as a strategy to alleviate the predatory impacts of foxes.