Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Abstract

Invasive mammalian predators habituate to and generalize avian prey cues: a mechanism for conserving native prey.

Abstract

Invasive mammalian predators can cause the decline and extinction of vulnerable native species. Many invasive mammalian predators are dietary generalists that hunt a variety of prey. These predators often rely upon olfaction when foraging, particularly at night. Little is understood about how prey odor cues are used to inform foraging decisions. Prey cues can vary spatially and temporally in their association with prey and can either reveal the location of prey or lead to unsuccessful foraging. Here we examine how two wild-caught invasive mammalian bird predator species (European hedgehogs Erinaceus europaeus and ferrets Mustela putorius furo) respond to unrewarded bird odors over successive exposures, first demonstrating that the odors are perceptually different using house mice (Mus musculus) as a biological olfactometer. We aim to test if introduced predators categorize odor cues of similar prey together, a tactic that could increase foraging efficiency. We exposed house mice to the odors using a standard habituation/dishabituation test in a laboratory setting, and wild-caught European hedgehogs and ferrets in an outdoor enclosure using a similar procedure. Mice discriminated among all bird odors presented, showing more interest in chicken odor than quail or gull odor. Both predator species showed a decline in interest toward unrewarded prey odor (i.e., habituation), but only ferrets generalized their response from one unrewarded bird odor to another bird odor. Hedgehog responses to unrewarded bird odors were highly variable between individuals. Taken together, our results reveal interspecific and intraspecific differences in response to prey odors, which we argue are a consequence of different diet breadth, life and evolutionary histories, and the conditions in each experiment. Generalization of prey odors may have enabled some species of invasive predators to efficiently hunt a range of intraguild prey species, for example, ground-nesting shorebirds. Olfactory manipulation of predators may be a useful conservation tool for threatened prey if it reduces the conspicuousness of vulnerable prey.