Habitat as a mediator of mesopredator-driven mammal extinction

Peter J. Mcdonald, Catherine E M Nano, Simon J. Ward, Alistair Stewart, Chris R. Pavey, Gary W. Luck, Chris R. Dickman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

11 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

A prevailing view in dryland systems is that mammals are constrained by the scarcity of fertile soils and primary productivity. An alternative view is that predation is a primary driver of mammal assemblages, especially in Australia, where 2 introduced mesopredators-feral cat (Felis catus) and red fox (Vulpes vulpes)-are responsible for severe declines of dryland mammals. We evaluated productivity and predation as drivers of native mammal assemblage structure in dryland Australia. We used new data from 90 sites to examine the divers of extant mammal species richness and reconstructed historic mammal assemblages to determine proportional loss of mammal species across broad habitat types (landform and vegetation communities). Predation was supported as a major driver of extant mammal richness, but its effect was strongly mediated by habitat. Areas that were rugged or had dense grass cover supported more mammal species than the more productive and topographically simple areas. Twelve species in the critical weight range (CWR) (35-5500 g) that is most vulnerable to mesopredator predation were extirpated from the continent's central region, and the severity of loss of species correlated negatively with ruggedness and positively with productivity. Based on previous studies, we expect that habitat mediates predation from red foxes and feral cats because it affects these species' densities and foraging efficiency. Large areas of rugged terrain provided vital refuge for Australian dryland mammals, and we predict such areas will support the persistence of CWR species in the face of ongoing mammal declines elsewhere in Australia.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1183-1191
Number of pages9
JournalConservation Biology
Volume31
Issue number5
Early online dateFeb 2017
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2017

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