Bandicoots are falling prey to introduced predators such as cats. Dogs were introduced at the same time yet bandicoots in certain areas avoid backyards containing domestic dogs. A team of researchers investigated possible explanations for this disparity in behaviors. The findings are in a paper that was just published in the journal PLOS One.
Introduced predators can wreak havoc on local ecosystems, partially because the native animals won’t know to avoid them. The introduction of domesticated cats and dogs has been tough on Australian wildlife, including bandicoots. Oddly, researchers have noticed that bandicoots in Sydney avoid domestic dogs but not cats. Dogs and cats were introduced to Australia at the same time so if it was a learned behavior, the bandicoots should be avoiding both species. Researchers speculated that coexistence with dingoes, relatives of the dog, has primed bandicoots to avoid canids.
A team of researchers recruited citizen scientists to help study the habits of bandicoots in Tasmania. Dingoes have never lived in the area but both cats and dogs were introduced over 200 years ago. The researchers collected data on bandicoot sightings and signs of their presence in yards, such as droppings. In total, the team surveyed 548 homes.
Bandicoots in Tasmania were just as likely to enter backyards with dogs as they were yards without pets. This is in contrast to bandicoots in Sydney, which avoid entering yards containing dogs. Over a quarter of the people interviewed reported that their pets had killed bandicoots.
Domestic dogs and cats are serious threats to wild bandicoots. The research team found that while bandicoots in Sydney avoid domestic dogs (but not cats), Tasmanian bandicoots fail to avoid either predator. This can be attributed to the presence of dingoes in Sydney since their introduction over 4000 years ago. Dingoes resemble dogs and so the bandicoots know to avoid both animals. The team believes that bandicoots will eventually recognize both dogs and cats as threats.
Anke S. K. Frank , Alexandra J. R. Carthey, & Peter B. Banks. Does Historical Coexistence with Dingoes Explain Current Avoidance of Domestic Dogs? Island Bandicoots Are Naïve to Dogs, unlike Their Mainland Counterparts. PLOS One (2016).