When ancestry haunts - can evolutionary links to ancestors affect vulnerability of Australian prey to introduced predators? A preliminary study.
The high extinction risk of Australian marsupials has been attributed to their failure to recognise novel predators, the application of inappropriate antipredator responses, and advanced hunting strategies of novel predators. This study is a preliminary attempt to explore whether the Lumholtz' tree-kangaroo (Dendrolagus lumholtzi) (a) is able to recognise odour cues from different predators as threats, and (b) possesses predator-archetype specific antipredator responses. A small number of available captive tree-kangaroos were exposed to faecal odours from two extant predators of different archetypes (python, dingo), a regionally extinct predator which closely matches past terrestrial predators (Tasmanian devil), and a novel predator (domestic dog). Lavender oil was used as non-predator novel odour and water as control. Results suggest that all subjects associated the presented odours with a threat, albeit to different degrees, but did not display predator-archetype specific responses. It appears that this species applies an ancestral antipredator response of flight-on-the ground when encountering predators, including novel predators. Although the results need to be confirmed with more animals, further studies on the vulnerability of Australian prey to novel predators should take the ancestral history of Australian prey species into account.