AAAS coverage of latest paper: "Tasmanian devils create landscape of fear"
Great coverage of Tracy Hollings' latest paper (Prof. McCallum as co-author) in Science (AAAS).
Tasmanian devils—marsupial carnivores the size of a small dog—once actively preyed on possums on Tasmania and nearby islands. Now, the endangered devils are so rare that the tree-living possums frolic freely on the ground and venture into new areas, changing their role in the ecosystem, according to a new study. The finding boosts a hypothesis about how top predators transform the behavior of their prey and has implications for how scientists understand other ecosystems, including that of Yellowstone National Park in the United States.
“It’s good work,” says John Laundré, a predator-prey ecologist at the University of California, Riverside, who was not involved with the study. “Just like in Yellowstone, after the wolves and cougars were removed [in the 1920s] and elk foraged everywhere, these possums can now go anywhere, any time, and eat anything they want.”
Here's the paper:
Hollings, T., McCallum, H., Kreger, K., Mooney, N., Jones, M. (2015) Relaxation of risk-sensitive behaviour of prey following disease-induced decline of an apex predator, the Tasmanian devil. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 282:20150124 (link).
Image credit: Tracy Hollings