Oecologia

, Volume 74, Issue 2, pp 215–227

The feeding ecology of the dingo

III. Dietary relationships with widely fluctuating prey populations in arid Australia: an hypothesis of alternation of predation
  • L. K. Corbett
  • A. E. Newsome
Original Papers

Summary

Changes in the diet of dingoes (Canis familiaris dingo) in response to measured fluctuations of prey populations were followed over 7 years. The study began after great rains had broken a long drought. Eruptions of rodents and rabbits followed, but some prey were always either relatively abundant (live cattle) or scarce (red kangaroo, lizards, birds). Cattle carcasses were increasingly available during a subsequent drought. Small and medium-sized prey, rodents (26%), lizards (12%) and rabbits (56%) were preferred, probably because they were easily caught. Only rabbits were caten consistently regardless of density. By contrast, large prey were eaten in relatively large amounts only during drought, with initial emphasis on red kangaroos (15% overall) and then cattle (17%) mostly as carcasses. The diet was functionally related to the respective abundances of all major prey species, but the relationship shifted during drought when predation on low populations was most severe. There was evidence that growth of resurging prey populations were suppressed by predation. Diets of dingoes did not differ significantly with age or sex. An hypothesis of ‘alternation of predation’ is presented: dingoes feed sequentially on prey of increasing size (rodents, rabbits, red kangaroos, cattle) in response to rainy periods and subsequent droughts, meanwhile always concentrating on the staple prey (rabbits). The fluctuating abundances of small and medium-sized prey determined not only their own relative availabilities but also that of large prey, and hence determined the diet of the dingo at any time. Prey availability (catchability, accessability) appeared to be more important than prey abundance (numbers, biomass), and the dingo's flexible social organisation allowed versatility in hunting strategies and defence of resources. We conclude that dingoes do not always forage most efficiently as optimal foraging models predict because of the constraints imposed by the capricious environment in arid Australis, where prey availability fluctuates greatly and becomes limited and clumped in drought, so that dingoes may be faced with outright starvation. Instead we conclude that dingoes utilise a conservative feeding strategy and adopt any behaviour which provides at least a threshold quantity of energy or nutrient as part of a trade-off with other competing ecological requirements.

Key words

Foraging Alternation of predation Prey availability Dingo Desert 

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

References

  1. Abrams PA (1982) Functional responses of optimal foragers. Am Nat 120:382–390Google Scholar
  2. Caraco T (1980) On foraging time allocation in a stochastic environment. Ecology 61:119–128Google Scholar
  3. Caraco T, Martindale S, Whittam TS (1980) An emperical demonstration of risk-sensitive foraging preferences. Anim Behav 28:820–830Google Scholar
  4. Caughley G, Grigg GC, Caughley J, Hill GJE (1980) Does dingo predation control the densities of kangaroos and emus? Aust Wildl Res 7:1–12Google Scholar
  5. Charnov EL (1976) Optimal foraging: attack strategy of a mantid. Am Nat 110:141–151Google Scholar
  6. Coman BJ (1972) Helminth parasites of the dingo and feral dog in Victoria with some notes on the diet of the host. Aust Vet J 48:456–461Google Scholar
  7. Corbett LK (1974) Contributions to the biology of dingoes (carnivora: canidae) in Victoria. M Sc thesis, Monash UniversityGoogle Scholar
  8. Corbett LK, Newsome AE (1975) Dingo society and its maintenance: a preliminary analysis. In: Fox MW (ed) The wild canids. Van Nostrand Reinhold, New York, pp 369–379Google Scholar
  9. Estes RD, Goddard J (1976) Prey selection and hunting behaviour of the African wild dog. J Wildl Manage 31:52–70Google Scholar
  10. Floyd TJ, Mech LD, Jordan PA (1978) Relating wolf scat content to prey consumed. J Wildl Manage 42:528–532Google Scholar
  11. Goss-Custard JD (1977) The energetics of prey selection by redshank, Tringa totanus (L), in relation to prey density. J Anim Ecol 46:1–19Google Scholar
  12. Green B, Catling P (1977) The biology of the dingo. In: Messel H, Butler ST (eds) Australian animals and their environment. Shakespeare Head Press, Sydney, pp 51–60Google Scholar
  13. Heller R (1980) On optimal diet in a patchy environment. Theor Popul Biol 17:201–214Google Scholar
  14. Hooper PT, Sallaway MM, Latz PK, Maconochie JR, Hyde KW, Corbett LK (1973) Ayres Rock-Mt Olga National Park environment al study, 1972. Land Conserv Ser 2:1–52Google Scholar
  15. Houston AI, Krebs JR, Erichsen JT (1980) Optimal prey choice and discrimination time in the great tit (Parus major L). Behav Ecol Sociobiol 6:169–175Google Scholar
  16. Jaeger RG, Joseph RG, Barnard DE (1981) Foraging tactics of a terrestrial salamander-sustained yield in territories. Anim Behav 29:1100–1105Google Scholar
  17. Janetos AC, Cole BJ (1981) Imperfectly optimal animals. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 9:203–210Google Scholar
  18. Krebs JR (1978) Optimal foraging: decision rules for predators. In: Krebs JR, Davies NB (eds) Behavioural ecology: an evolutionary approach. Blackwell Scientific, Oxford, pp 23–63Google Scholar
  19. Krebs JR, Erichsen JT, Webber MI, Charnov EL (1977) Optimal prey selection in the great tit (Parus major). Anim Behav 25:30–38Google Scholar
  20. Krebs JR, Stephens DW, Sutherland WJ (1983) Perspectives in optimal foraging. In: Brush AH, Clark GA (eds) Perspectives in ornithology. Cambridge Univ Press, Cambridge, pp 165–221Google Scholar
  21. Kruuk H (1972) The spotted hyaena. University of Chicago Press, Chicago-LondonGoogle Scholar
  22. Lacher TE, Willig MR, Mares MA (1982) Food preference as a function of resource abundance with multiple prey types: an experimental analysis of optimal foraging theory. Am Nat 120:297–316Google Scholar
  23. Lockie JD (1959) The estimation of the food of foxes. J Wildl Manage 23:224–227Google Scholar
  24. Lucas JR (1983) The role of foraging time constraints and variable prey encounter in optimal diet choice. Am Nat 122:191–209Google Scholar
  25. MacArthur RH, Pianka ER (1966) On optimal use of a patchy environment. Am Nat 100:603–609Google Scholar
  26. McCleery RH (1977) On satiation curves. Anim Behav 25:1005–1015Google Scholar
  27. McCleery RH (1978) Optimal behaviour sequences and decision making. In: Krebs JR, Davies NB (eds) Behavioural ecology: an evolutionary approach. Blackwell Scientific, Oxford, pp 377–410Google Scholar
  28. Meigs P (1953) World distribution of arid and semi-arid homoclimates. In: Arid zone programme I. Reviews of research on arid zone hydrology UNESCO, Paris, pp 203–210Google Scholar
  29. Milinski M (1982) Optimal foraging: the influence of intraspecific competition on diet selection. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 11:109–115Google Scholar
  30. Milinski M, Heller R (1978) Influence of a predator on the optimal foraging behaviour of sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus L). Nature (London) 275:642–644Google Scholar
  31. Murdoch WW (1969) Switching in general predators: experiments on predator specificity and stability of prey populations. Ecol Monogr 39:335–354Google Scholar
  32. Murdoch WW, Oaten A (1975) Predation and population stability. Adv Ecol Res 9:1–131Google Scholar
  33. Myers JP (1983) Commentary to Krebs JR, Stephens DW, Sutherland WJ Perspectives in optimal foraging. In: Brush AH, Clark GA (eds) Perspectives in ornithology. Cambridge Univ Press, Cambridge, pp 165–221Google Scholar
  34. Newsome AE (1965) The distribution of red kangaroos, Megaleia rufa, about sources of persistent food and water in central Australia. Aust J Zool 13:289–299Google Scholar
  35. Newsome AE (1966) Estimating the severity of drought. Nature 209:904Google Scholar
  36. Newsome AE (1975) An ecological comparison of the two aridzone kangaroos of Australia, and their anomalous prosperity since the introduction of ruminant stock to their environment. Q Rev Biol 50:389–425Google Scholar
  37. Newsome AE, Corbett, LK (1973) Outbreaks of rodents in semiarid and arid Australia: causes, preventions, and evolutionary considerations. In: Prakash I, Ghosh PK (eds) Rodents in desert environments. Junk, The Hague, pp 117–153Google Scholar
  38. Newsome AE, Corbett LK, Best LW, Green B (1973) The dingo. Aust Meat Res Comm Rev 14:1–11Google Scholar
  39. Newsome AE, Corbett LK, Catling PC, Burt RJ (1983a) The feeding ecology of the dingo I. Stomach contents from trapping in south-eastern Australia and the non-target wildlife also caught in dingo traps. Aust Wildl Res 10:477–486Google Scholar
  40. Newsome AE, Catling PC, Corbett LK (1983b) The feeding ecology of the dingo II. Dietary and numerical relationship with fluctuating prey populations in south-eastern Australia. Aust J Ecol 8:345–366Google Scholar
  41. Oaten A (1977) Optimal foraging in patches: a case for stochasticity. Theor Popul Biol 12:263–285Google Scholar
  42. Palmer AR (1981) Predator errors, foraging in unpredictable enviroments and risk: the consequences of prey variation in handling time versus net energy. Am Nat 118:908–915Google Scholar
  43. Parer I (1977) The population ecology of the wild rabbit, Oryctolagus cuniculus (L), in a mediterranean-type climate, in New South Wales. Aust Wildl Res 4:171–205Google Scholar
  44. Perry RA, Mabbutt JA, Litchfield WH, Quinlan T (1962) Land system of the Alice Springs area. In: Lands of the Alice Springs area, Northern Territory, 1956–57. CSIRO Land Research Series No 6, pp 20–108Google Scholar
  45. Petty D, Holt R, Bertram J (1979) Alice Springs District cattle industry survey, 1979. Northern Territory Department of Primary Production, Tech Bull 31Google Scholar
  46. Pulliam HR (1974) On the theory of optimal diets. Am Nat 108:59–75Google Scholar
  47. Pyke GH (1984) Optimal foraging theory: a critical review. Ann Rev Ecol Syst 15:523–575Google Scholar
  48. Pyke GH, Pulliam HR, Charnov EL (1977) Optimal foraging: a selective review of theory and tests. Q Rev Biol 52:137–154Google Scholar
  49. Rapport DJ (1971) An optimisation model of food selection. Am Nat 105:575–587Google Scholar
  50. Real L, Ott J, Silverfine E (1982) On the tradeoff between the mean and the variance in foraging: effect of spatial distribution and colour preference. Ecology 63:1617–1623Google Scholar
  51. Richards LJ (1983) Hunger and the optimal diet. Am Nat 122:326–334Google Scholar
  52. Robertshaw JD, Harden RH (1985) The ecology of the dingo in north-eastern New South Wales II. Diet. Aust Wildl Res 12:39–50Google Scholar
  53. Schaller GB (1972) The Serengeti lion. University of Chicago Press, Chicago-LondonGoogle Scholar
  54. Schluter D (1981) Does the theory of optimal diets apply in complex environments? Am Nat 118:139–147Google Scholar
  55. Schoener T (1971) On the theory of feeding strategies. Am Rev Ecol Syst 2:369–404Google Scholar
  56. Shepherd NC (1981) Predation of red kangaroos Macropus rufus, by the dingo, Canis familiaris dingo (Blumenbach), in northwestern New South Wales. Aust Wildl Res 8:255–262Google Scholar
  57. Siegel S (1956) Nonparametric statistics for the behavioural sciences. McGraw-Hill, New York-Toronto-LondonGoogle Scholar
  58. Sih A (1982) Optimal patch use: variation in selective pressure for efficient foraging. Am Nat 120:666–685Google Scholar
  59. Simon HA (1982) A behavioural model of rational choice. Q J Econ 69:99–118Google Scholar
  60. Simon HA (1956) Rational choice and the structure of the environment. Psychol Rev 63:129–130Google Scholar
  61. Stephens DW, Charnov EL (1982) Optimal foraging: some simple stochastic models. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 10:251–263Google Scholar
  62. Turner AK (1982) Optimal foraging by the swallow (Hirundo rustica L) —prey size selection. Anim Behav 30:862–872Google Scholar
  63. Visser M (1982) Prey selection by the 3-spined stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus L). Oecologia (Berlin) 55:395–402Google Scholar
  64. Waddington KD, Allen T, Heinrich B (1981) Floral preferences of bumblebees (Bombus edwardsii) in relation to intermitant versus continuous rewards. Anim Behav 29:779–784Google Scholar
  65. Werner EE, Hall DJ (1974) Optimal, foraging and the size selection of prey by the bluegill sunfish (Lemopis macrochirus). Ecology 55:1042–1052Google Scholar
  66. Westoby M (1978) What are the biological bases of varied diets? Am Nat 112:627–631Google Scholar
  67. Whitehouse SJO (1977) The diet of the dingo in Western Australia. Aust Wildl Res 4:145–150Google Scholar
  68. Winterhalder B (1983) Opportunity-cost foraging models for stationary and mobile predators. Am Nat 122:73–84Google Scholar
  69. Wood DH (1980) The demography of a rabbit population in an arid region of New South Wales, Australia. J Anim Ecol 49:55–79Google Scholar
  70. Zimmerman M (1979) Optimal foraging: a case for random movement. Oecologia (Berlin) 43:261–267Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1987

Authors and Affiliations

  • L. K. Corbett
    • 1
  • A. E. Newsome
    • 2
  1. 1.CSIRO, Division of Wildlife and Rangelands ResearchTropical Ecosystems Research CentreWinnellieAustralia
  2. 2.Division of Wildlife and Rangelands ResearchCSIROLynehamAustralia

Personalised recommendations