Lisa Steindler

Lisa Steindler

Position: Doctoral Candidate

Supervisors:

Mike Letnic

Contact details:

Email: l.steindler@student.unsw.edu.au

Office: Room 456, D26 Building UNSW, Kensington 2052

Research Focus:

The aim of my project is to: Evaluate how history of predator exposure influences predator recognition by the greater bilby, Macrotis lagotis. An understanding of how bilby populations’ history of predator exposure influences their anti-predator responses is vital for developing strategies to re-establish populations back into areas where they formerly existed, beyond feral proof fences.

The greater bilby population has decline drastically since European settlement. The greater bilby now occupies only 20% of its former range. Australia has the highest contemporary mammal extinction rate in the world. Substantial evidence indicates that predation from exotic mammalian predators (feral cat and red fox) is the main cause of reintroduction failure during attempts to re-establish mammal species back into areas of their former range. Animals isolatecd from predators either evolutionary or throughout their lifetime may fail to recognise and respond appropriately to a novel predator, such as a feral cat and fox. Thus by compromising individuals' capacity to detect and subsequently avoid predators, complete isolation from predators may make it impossible to successfully translocate endangered Australian mammals from predator-free exclosures into environments where mammalian predators are present.

The results of this project will advance understanding of prey naïveté to introduced predators and assist wildlife managers to evaluate whether it is viable to re-establish populations of endangered wildlife beyond feral free fenced reserves and islands. This project aims to establish whether native mammals, such as the greater bilby recognise native and exotic predators. This project will determine if reintroducing native fauna into feral free fenced areas and islands facilitates prey naïveté by comparing population level predator recognition in populations isolated from predators (feral free fenced reserves and islands), compared to those who exist under low level predation pressure. It is possible that by reintroducing native mammals into feral free areas we are reducing species capacity to develop appropriate predator awareness. If results from this project indicate that it is essential to expose island and predator free populations to low level predation pressure to ensure they retain predator recognition of native species and learn to recognise novel predators, then conservation organisations can use this information to make informed decisions regarding future translocation projects beyond feral free fenced reserves.


Publications

Author Date Title Link PDF
Steindler et al 2018 Discrimination of introduced predators by ontogenetically naïve prey scales with duration of shared evolutionary history

Abstract: Hypotheses on the discrimination and recognition of predators by prey are divided as to whether the prey species' ability to recognize and avoid predators is proportionate to the duration of evolutionary exposure to specific predators or is a result of more generalized discrimination processes. Moreover, understanding of the timeframes necessary for prey species to maintain or acquire appropriate responses to introduced predators is poorly understood. We studied a population of wild, ontogenetically predator naïve greater bilbies, Macrotis lagotis, living within a large (60 km2) predator-free exclosure, to determine whether they modified their burrow-emergence behaviour in response to olfactory stimuli from introduced predators, dogs, Canis familiaris, and cats, Felis catus. Greater bilbies have shared over 3000 years of coevolutionary history with dogs but less than 200 years with cats. Bilbies spent more time only partially emerged (with at most head and shoulders out) as opposed to fully emerged (standing quadrupedally or bipedally) from their burrows when dog faeces were present, in comparison to faeces of cats, rabbits and an unscented control. Our results were consistent with the ‘ghosts of predator past’ hypothesis, which postulates that prey species' abilities to respond to the odours of predators scales with their period of coexistence. Our study supports the notion that introduced predators should be regarded as naturalized if prey possess an innate ability to detect their cues and respond accordingly.

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