Interference competition: odours of an apex predator and conspecifics influence resource acquisition by red foxes
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- Leo, V., Reading, R.P. & Letnic, M. Oecologia (2015) 179: 1033. doi:10.1007/s00442-015-3423-2
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Apex predators can impact smaller predators via lethal effects that occur through direct killing, and non-lethal effects that arise when fear-induced behavioural and physiological changes reduce the fitness of smaller predators. A general outcome of asymmetrical competition between co-existing predator species is that larger predators tend to suppress the abundances of smaller predators. Here, we investigate interference effects that an apex predator, the dingo (Canis dingo), has on the acquisition of food and water by the smaller red fox (Vulpes vulpes), by exposing free-ranging foxes to the odour of dingoes and conspecifics in an arid environment. Using giving-up densities we show that foxes foraged more apprehensively at predator-odour treatments than unscented controls, but their food intake did not differ between dingo- and fox-odour treatments. Using video analysis of fox behaviour at experimental water stations we show that foxes spent more time engaged in exploration behaviour at stations scented with fox odour and spent more time drinking at water stations scented with dingo odour. Our results provide support for the idea that dingo odour exerts a stronger interference effect on foxes than conspecific odour, but suggest that the odours of both larger dingoes and unfamiliar conspecifics curtailed foxes’ acquisition of food resources.