Happy Hunger Games, bilbies!

  Last updated May 30, 2019 at 10:17 am

Topics:  

A Hunger Games-style experiment has shown that pitting them against predators can actually help endangered species, like the bilby, survive in the wild.


bilbies australian animal endangered species bilby

Exposure to predators can positively impact endangered species. Credit: Auscape/UIG via Getty Images)


Imagine The Hunger Games, but instead of being trapped in a dome with killer kids and lethal wasps, you’re locked in with a bunch of feral cats.


For the greater bilby, it’s probably one of the worst situations to find themselves in, but research has shown that this exposure can actually help them survive in the wild.


The experiment, overseen by Katherine Moseby, a UNSW ecologist, has looked into the effects of exposing these vulnerable species to an environment with predators, before releasing them back into the wild.


The study, published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, compared the behaviour and subsequent survival of two groups of bilbies from different scenarios.


The first scenario saw a group of bilbies that had been deliberately exposed to feral cats.


The second, a group that had not come into contact with predators before.


Predators can help the fate of endangered animals


The study is the first experimental test of predator exposure that shows the fate of animals could be improved by prior experience living with predators.


“Deliberately exposing threatened species to feral cats in a wild setting is risky but our research suggests that it leads to a significant improvement in anti-predator behaviour and survival,” says Moseby.


The team from UNSW, Arid Recovery and UCLA, conducted the experiment in the Arid Recovery Reserve – a 123 km2 network of fenced exclosures in arid South Australia.


Several locally extinct species have recently been re‐introduced into the Reserve, including the vulnerable greater bilby.


“The reserve is divided into paddocks, and we conducted the experiment in three paddocks: the predator‐free paddock, the predator‐exposed paddock, and the release site,” says lead author Aly Ross, also from UNSW.


Predator exposure shapes bilbies behaviour


Bilbies from the predator-exposed paddock had been living with five feral cats in the two years leading up to the experiment.


The bilbies from the predator-free environment had never encountered cats or other predators.


“First, we compared the behaviour of bilbies from the predator‐free and predator‐exposed populations in a small fenced pen of a bit over 50 m2 – primarily to see how they’d react to a new environment,” says Ross.


The team found that the behaviour of the animals that had previous predator exposure differed from the predator ‘novices’.


The study showed that predator exposure changed the behaviour of the bilby. Credit: JOUAN/RIUS/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images


“Animals that had lived in an environment with predators moved less and sought cover more quickly,” says Ross.


“This shows that they were warier of potential threats, whereas the predator-free group of bilbies showed fewer signs of predator awareness.”


The fact that animal behaviour can be changed by predator training has been demonstrated before, but it’s what the group found next that is particularly interesting.


“In a second experiment, we released bilbies from the predator-exposed paddock and some from the predator-free paddock into a third paddock with some feral cats,” says Ross.


“Unfortunately, we found that 71 per cent of the predator‐free bilbies died in the week after release, but only 33 per cent of the predator‐exposed bilbies met the same fate – showing that the bilbies who had been exposed to the very real threat of predators already had benefitted from that experience.”


A different approach to conservation


The findings have important implications for the conservation of native animals and programs that seek to reintroduce species like the bilby.


“Our native animals did not evolve with introduced cats and foxes,” says  Moseby.


“Isolating threatened animals from introduced predators on islands or inside fenced reserves exacerbates the issue of prey naivety. We are advocating for a different approach whereby threatened species are exposed to these predators in the wild under controlled conditions.”


Possible to make ‘better’ prey species


The research suggests that predator exposure improves survival in the first 40 days following translocation.


Species with predator training may be have a vital edge that increases the chance of creating a sustainable population in areas with some predators.


Mike Letnic from UNSW says that the research points out the importance of native animals tolerating introduced predators.


“Our research shows that it is possible to make ‘better’ prey species, because ultimately if native animals are to survive in the wild they need to be able to tolerate the threat posed by introduced predators.”


Moseby agrees that co-existence is important for the survival of native species.


“Although it may take decades or even centuries for our native species to develop the skills they need to combat feral cats and foxes, we need to be working towards that co-existence now,” she says.


Related


Huge feral-free safe haven to be home for missing native desert animals


Dingoes keep feral cats under control


Bilbies are more than Easter icons – they help our their mates


Education Resource


https://education.australiascience.tv/predator-exposure-can-help-vulnerable-species-survive-in-the-wild/




About the Author

UNSW Newsroom
The latest and best news from the University of New South Wales.

Published By

Featured Videos

Placeholder
Big Questions: Cancer
Placeholder
A future of nanobots in 180 seconds
Placeholder
Multi-user VR opens new worlds for medical research
Placeholder
Precision atom qubits achieve major quantum computing milestone
Placeholder
World's first complete design of a silicon quantum computer chip
Placeholder
Micro-factories - turning the world's waste burden into economic opportunities
Placeholder
Flip-flop qubits: a whole new quantum computing architecture
Placeholder
Ancient Babylonian tablet - world's first trig table
Placeholder
Life on Earth - and Mars?
Placeholder
“Desirable defects: Nano-scale structures of piezoelectrics” – Patrick Tung
Placeholder
Keeping Your Phone Safe from Hackers
Placeholder
Thru Fuze - a revolution in chronic back pain treatment (2015)
Placeholder
Breakthrough for stem cell therapies (2016)
Placeholder
The fortune contained in your mobile phone
Placeholder
Underwater With Emma Johnston
Placeholder
Flip-flop qubits: a whole new quantum computing architecture
Placeholder
The “Dressed Qubit” - breakthrough in quantum state stability (2016)
Placeholder
Pinpointing qubits in a silicon quantum computer (2016)
Placeholder
How to build a quantum computer in silicon (2015)
Placeholder
Quantum computer coding in silicon now possible (2015)
Placeholder
Crucial hurdle overcome for quantum computing (2015)
Placeholder
New world record for silicon quantum computing (2014)
Placeholder
Quantum data at the atom's heart (2013)
Placeholder
Towards a quantum internet (2013)
Placeholder
Single-atom transistor (2012)
Placeholder
Down to the Wire (2012)
Placeholder
Landmark in quantum computing (2012)
Placeholder
1. How Quantum Computers Will Change Our World
Placeholder
Quantum Computing Concepts – What will a quantum computer do?
Placeholder
Quantum Computing Concepts – Quantum Hardware
Placeholder
Quantum Computing Concepts – Quantum Algorithms
Placeholder
Quantum Computing Concepts – Quantum Logic
Placeholder
Quantum Computing Concepts – Entanglement
Placeholder
Quantum Computing Concepts - Quantum Measurement
Placeholder
Quantum Computing Concepts – Spin
Placeholder
Quantum Computing Concepts - Quantum Bits
Placeholder
Quantum Computing Concepts - Binary Logic
Placeholder
Rose Amal - Sustainable fuels from the Sun
Placeholder
Veena Sahajwalla - The E-Waste Alchemist
Placeholder
Katharina Gaus - Extreme Close-up on Immunity
Placeholder
In her element - Professor Emma Johnston
Placeholder
Martina Stenzel - Targeting Tumours with Tiny Assassins
Placeholder
How Did We Get Here? - Why are we all athletes?
Placeholder
How Did We Get Here? - Megafauna murder mystery
Placeholder
How Did We Get Here? - Why are we so hairy?
Placeholder
How Did We Get Here? - Why grannies matter
Placeholder
How Did We Get Here? - Why do only humans experience puberty?
Placeholder
How Did We Get Here? - Evolution of the backside
Placeholder
How Did We Get Here? - Why we use symbols
Placeholder
How Did We Get Here? - Evolutionary MasterChefs
Placeholder
How Did We Get Here? - The Paleo Diet fad
Placeholder
How Did We Get Here? - Are races real?
Placeholder
How Did We Get Here? - Are We Still Evolving?
Placeholder
How Did We Get Here? - Dangly Bits
Placeholder
Catastrophic Science: Climate Migrants
Placeholder
Catastrophic Science: De-Extinction
Placeholder
Catastrophic Science: Nuclear Disasters
Placeholder
Catastrophic Science: Storm Surges
Placeholder
Catastrophic Science: How the Japan tsunami changed science
Placeholder
Catastrophic Science: How the World Trade Centre collapsed
Placeholder
Catastrophic Science: Bushfires