Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Know Your Enemy

Credit: Bernard Dupont

Credit: Bernard Dupont

By Lisa Anna Steindler & Mike Letnic

An ingenious experiment has tested whether shared evolutionary history enables bilbies to detect threats from dingoes but not feral cats.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

The greater bilby once roamed far and wide across the Australian continent, and was found across 70% of the country. Sadly, since European settlement the bilby population has drastically declined, becoming concentrated and restricted to a mere 20% of their former range.

It is now more common for you to find an Easter bilby on the shelves of a supermarket than it is to see a bilby in the wild. The main reason for the drastic loss of this species, as well as many other native mammals, has been the introduction of exotic predators such as the red fox and feral cat.

The inability to recognise a predator and mount appropriate anti-predator responses is often dubbed “prey naïveté” and has been implicated in the decline of many Australian mammals, including the bilby. Previous studies have suggested that a species’ ability to recognise predators may depend on how long they have co-evolved with that predator. In species that have had a long-history of evolution with their predators, predator recognition may become hard-wired so that prey exhibit innate abilities to recognise and respond to the scents and images of co-evolved predators. In contrast, prey species that have not been exposed to predators over evolutionary timescales may learn through lifetime experience to recognise and respond to the scents and images of predators. What does this mean for the future of...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.