Context. Apex predators occupy the top level of the trophic cascade and often perform regulatory functions in many ecosystems. Their removal has been shown to increase herbivore and mesopredator populations, and ultimately reduce species diversity. In Australia, it has been proposed that the apex predator, the dingo (Canis dingo), has the potential to act as a biological control agent for two introduced mesopredators, the red fox (Vulpes vulpes) and the feral cat (Felis catus). Understanding the mechanisms of interaction among the three species may assist in determining the effectiveness of the dingo as a control agent and the potential benefits to lower-order species.
Aims. To test the hypotheses that feral cats and foxes attempt to both temporally avoid dingoes and spatially avoid areas of high dingo use.
Methods. Static and dynamic interaction methodologies based on global positioning system (GPS) telemetry data were applied to test temporal and spatial interactions between the two mesopredators (n = 15) and a dingo pair (n = 2). The experimental behavioural study was conducted in a 37-km2 fenced enclosure located in arid South Australia.
Key results. The dynamic interaction analysis detected neither attraction nor avoidance between dingoes and cats or foxes at short temporal scales. There was no suggestion of delayed interactions, indicating that dingoes were not actively hunting mesopredators on the basis of olfactory signalling. However, static interaction analysis suggested that, although broad home ranges of cats and foxes overlapped with dingoes, core home ranges were mutually exclusive. This was despite similar habitat preferences among species.
Conclusions. We found that avoidance patterns were not apparent when testing interactions at short temporal intervals, but were manifested at larger spatial scales. Results support previous work that suggested that dingoes kill mesopredators opportunistically rather than through active hunting.
Implications. Core home ranges of dingoes may provide refuge areas for small mammals and reptiles, and ultimately benefit threatened prey species by creating mesopredator-free space. However, the potential high temporal variation in core home-range positioning and small size of mutually exclusive areas suggested that further work is required to determine whether these areas provide meaningful sanctuaries for threatened prey.