A native apex predator limits an invasive mesopredator and protects native prey: Tasmanian devils protecting bandicoots from cats.
Apex predators can limit the abundance and behaviour of mesopredators, thereby reducing predation on smaller species. We know less about whether native apex predators are effective in suppressing invasive mesopredators, a major global driver of vertebrate extinctions. We use the severe disease-induced decline of an apex predator, the Tasmanian devil, as a natural experiment to test whether devils limit abundance of invasive feral cats and in turn protect smaller native prey. Cat abundance was c. 58% higher where devils had declined, which in turn negatively affected a smaller native prey species. Devils had a stronger limiting effect on cats than on a native mesopredator, suggesting apex predators may have stronger suppressive effects on evolutionarily naive species than coevolved species. Our results highlight how disease in one species can affect the broader ecosystem. We show that apex predators not only regulate native species but can also confer resistance to the impacts of invasive populations. Apex predators could therefore be a powerful but underutilised tool to prevent biodiversity loss.