, Volume 22, Issue 2, pp 283–295 | Cite as

Ecological Role of an Apex Predator Revealed by a Reintroduction Experiment and Bayesian Statistics

  • K. E. MosebyEmail author
  • M. S. Crowther
  • M. Letnic


Recent studies suggest that apex predators play a pivotal role in maintaining healthy, balanced ecosystems. However, a criticism of studies investigating the ecological role of apex predators is that understanding does not come from manipulative experiments. Here, we use a before-after-control-impact-paired design to test predictions generated from trophic cascade theory (TCT) and mesopredator release hypothesis (MRH) by experimentally introducing dingoes into a 37-km2 paddock and measuring the resultant effects on mammal assemblages. To increase precision of parameter estimates generated by our experiment, we used a Bayesian framework which included prior information recorded from a mensurative study located in a comparable ecosystem that contrasted indices of mammal abundance where dingoes were common and rare. Results of the mensurative study were consistent with TCT and MRH. When using an uninformative prior, results of the experiment showed that dingo addition only had a negative effect on kangaroo activity. Use of an informative prior reduced uncertainty of the posterior mean parameter estimates from the experiment and suggested that red foxes were affected negatively and small mammals and rabbits were affected positively by dingo introduction. However, the prior had a strong influence on the posterior mean effect sizes for small mammals, rabbits and foxes. Opposite polarity of uninformed and prior parameter estimates for rabbits suggests that the prior was incompatible with the uninformed estimates from the manipulative experiment. Our study shows how use of logical informative priors can help to overcome statistical issues associated with low-replication in large-scale experiments, but the strong influence of the prior means that our findings were driven largely by the mensurative study.


apex predator trophic cascade mesopredator release Bayesian prior BACIP landscape-scale experiment 



Funding was provided by the South Australian Arid Lands NRM Board, BHP Billiton and Arid Recovery. ML was supported by the Australian Research Council. Part of this study was conducted at Arid Recovery, a conservation partnership between BHP Billiton, The South Australian Department for Environment, University of Adelaide and local community. We thank the landowners who provided access to the study area and many staff and volunteers who assisted with fencing and data collection. We thank two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments on the manuscript. This study was conducted under ethics approval (permit no. 6/2007-M3) from the South Australian Wildlife Ethics Committee.

Supplementary material

10021_2018_269_MOESM1_ESM.docx (26 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 25 kb)


  1. Campbell G, Coffey A, Miller H, Read JL, Brook A, Fleming PJS, Bird P, Eldridge S, Allen BL. 2018. Dingo baiting did not reduce fetal/calf loss in beef cattle in northern South Australia. Animal Prod Sci. Scholar
  2. Caughley G, Grigg GC, Caughley J, Hill GJE. 1980. Does dingo predation control the densities of kangaroos and emus? Aust Wildlife Research 7:1–12.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Colman NJ, Gordon CE, Crowther MS, Letnic M. 2014. Lethal control of an apex predator has unintended cascading effects on forest mammal assemblages. Proc R Soc B Biol Sci 281:20133094.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Corbett LK. 1995. Dingo in Australia and Asia. Sydney: UNSW Press.Google Scholar
  5. Crome FHJ, Thomas MR, Moore LA. 1996. A novel Bayesian approach to assessing impacts of rain forest logging. Ecol Appl 6:1104–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Crooks KR, Soulé ME. 1999. Mesopredator release and avifaunal extinctions in a fragmented system. Nature 400:563–6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Dickman CR, Glen AS, Letnic M. 2009. Reintroducing the dingo: can Australia’s conservation wastelands be restored. Reintrod Top-order Predat 7:238.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Eldridge SR, Shakeshaft BJ, Nano TJ. 2002. The impact of wild dog control on cattle, native and introduced herbivores and introduced predators in central Australia. Final report to the Bureau of Rural Sciences. Alice Springs: Parks and Wildlife Commission of the Northern Territory.Google Scholar
  9. Estes JA, Terborgh J, Brashares JS, Power ME, Berger J, Bond WJ, Carpenter SR, Essington TE, Holt RD, Jackson JBC, Marquis RJ, Oksanen L, Oksanen T, Paine RT, Pikitch EK, Ripple WJ, Sandin SA, Scheffer M, Schoener TW, Shurin JB, Sinclair ARE, Soulé ME, Virtanen R, Wardle DA. 2011. Trophic downgrading of planet earth. Science 333:301–6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Ford AT, Goheen JR, Otieno TO, Bidner L, Isbell LA, Palmer TM, Ward D, Woodroffe R, Pringle RM. 2014. Large carnivores make savanna tree communities less thorny. Science 346:346–9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Funston P, Frank L, Stephens T, Davidson Z, Loveridge A, Macdonald D, Durant S, Packer C, Mosser A, Ferreira S. 2010. Substrate and species constraints on the use of track incidences to estimate African large carnivore abundance. J Zool 281:56–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Gordon CE, Feit A, Grüber J, Letnic M. 2015. Mesopredator suppression by an apex predator alleviates the risk of predation perceived by small prey. Proc R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. Scholar
  13. Hobbs NT, Hooten MB. 2015. Bayesian models: a statistical primer for ecologists. Princeton (NJ): Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Howland BW, Stojanovic D, Gordon IJ, Radford J, Manning AD, Lindenmayer DB. 2016. Birds of a feather flock together: Using trait-groups to understand the effect of macropod grazing on birds in grassy habitats. Biol Cons 194:89–99.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Kauffman MJ, Brodie JF, Jules ES. 2013. Are wolves saving Yellowstone’s aspen? A landscape-level test of a behaviorally mediated trophic cascade: reply. Ecology 94:1425–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Kennedy M, Phillips BL, Legge S, Murphy SA, Faulkner RA. 2012. Do dingoes suppress the activity of feral cats in northern Australia? Austral Ecol 37:134–9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Letnic M, Greenville A, Denny E, Dickman CR, Tischler M, Gordon C, Koch F. 2011. Does a top predator suppress the abundance of an invasive mesopredator at a continental scale? Glob Ecol Biogeogr 20:343–53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Letnic M, Koch F. 2010. Are dingoes a trophic regulator in arid Australia? A comparison of mammal communities on either side of the dingo fence. Austral Ecol 35:167–75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Letnic M, Koch F, Gordon C, Crowther MS, Dickman CR. 2009. Keystone effects of an alien top-predator stem extinctions of native mammals. Proc R Soc B Biol Sci 276:3249–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Letnic M, Ritchie EG, Dickman CR. 2012. Top predators as biodiversity regulators: the dingo Canis lupus dingo as a case study. Biol Rev 87:390–413.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Martin TG, Arcese P, Kuhnert PM, Gaston AJ, Martin J-L. 2013. Prior information reduces uncertainty about the consequences of deer overabundance on forest birds. Biol Cons 165:10–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. McCarthy MA. 2007. Bayesian methods for ecology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. McCarthy MA, Masters P. 2005. Profiting from prior information in Bayesian analyses of ecological data. J Appl Ecol 42:1012–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. McCarthy MA, Parris KM. 2004. Clarifying the effect of toe clipping on frogs with Bayesian statistics. J Appl Ecol 41:780–6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Mech LD. 2012. Is science in danger of sanctifying the wolf? Biol Cons 150:143–9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Morris T, Letnic M. 2017. Removal of an apex predator initiates a trophic cascade that extends from herbivores to vegetation and the soil nutrient pool. Proc R Soc B 1854:20170111.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Morris WK, Vesk PA, McCarthy MA, Bunyavejchewin S, Baker PJ. 2015. The neglected tool in the Bayesian ecologist’s shed: a case study testing informative priors’ effect on model accuracy. Ecol Evol 5:102–8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Moseby K, De Jong S, Munro N, Pieck A. 2005. Home range, activity and habitat use of European rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) in arid Australia: implications for control. Wildl Res 32:305–11.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Moseby K, Hill B. 2011. The use of poison baits to control feral cats and red foxes in arid South Australia I. Aerial baiting trials. Wildl Res 38:338–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Moseby KE, Neilly H, Read JL, Crisp HA. 2012. Interactions between a top order predator and exotic mesopredators in the Australian Rangelands. Int J Ecol 2012:250352. Scholar
  31. Moseby K, Stott J, Crisp H. 2009. Movement patterns of feral predators in an arid environment–implications for control through poison baiting. Wildl Res 36:422–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Newsome AE, Catling PC, Cooke BD, Smyth R. 2001. Two ecological universes separated by the Dingo Barrier Fence in semi-arid Australia: interactions between landscapes, herbivory and carnivory, with and without dingoes. Rangel J 23:71–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Newsome TM, Ballard GA, Crowther MS, Dellinger JA, Fleming PJ, Glen AS, Greenville AC, Johnson CN, Letnic M, Moseby KE. 2015. Resolving the value of the dingo in ecological restoration. Restor Ecol 23:201–8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Newsome TM, Ballard GA, Dickman CR, Fleming PJ, van de Ven R. 2013. Home range, activity and sociality of a top predator, the dingo: a test of the Resource Dispersion Hypothesis. Ecography 36:914–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Oksanen L. 2001. Logic of experiments in ecology: Is pseudoreplication a pseudoissue? Oikos 94:27–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Ordiz A, Bischof R, Swenson JE. 2013. Saving large carnivores, but losing the apex predator? Biol Cons 168:128–33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Ordiz A, Sæbø S, Kindberg J, Swenson J, Støen OG. 2017. Seasonality and human disturbance alter brown bear activity patterns: implications for circumpolar carnivore conservation? Anim Conserv 20:51–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Painter LE, Beschta RL, Larsen EJ, Ripple WJ. 2015. Recovering aspen follow changing elk dynamics in Yellowstone: Evidence of a trophic cascade? Ecology 96:252–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Palomares F, Gaona P, Ferreras P, Delibes M. 1995. Positive effects on game species of top predators by controlling smaller predator populations: an example with lynx, mongooses, and rabbits. Conserv Biol 9:295–305.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Pasanen-Mortensen M, Pyykönen M, Elmhagen B. 2013. Where lynx prevail, foxes will fail-limitation of a mesopredator in Eurasia. Glob Ecol Biogeogr 22:868–77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Pople AR, Grigg GC, Cairns SC, Beard LA, Alexander P. 2000. Trends in the numbers of red kangaroos and emus on either side of the South Australian dingo fence: Evidence for predator regulation? Wildl Res 27:269–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Prowse TA, Johnson CN, Cassey P, Bradshaw CJ, Brook BW. 2015. Ecological and economic benefits to cattle rangelands of restoring an apex predator. J Appl Ecol 52:455–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Read J, Eldridge S. 2010. An optimised rapid detection technique for simultaneously monitoring activity of rabbits, cats, foxes and dingoes in the rangelands. Rangel J 32:389–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Ripple WJ, Estes JA, Beschta RL, Wilmers CC, Ritchie EG, Hebblewhite M, Berger J, Elmhagen B, Letnic M, Nelson MP, Schmitz OJ, Smith DW, Wallach AD, Wirsing AJ. 2014. Status and ecological effects of the World’s largest carnivores. Science 343:1241484.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Ritchie EG, Johnson CN. 2009. Predator interactions, mesopredator release and biodiversity conservation. Ecol Lett 12:982–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Robley A, Gormley A, Forsyth DM, Wilton AN, Stephens D. 2010. Movements and habitat selection by wild dogs in eastern Victoria. Aust Mammal 32:23–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Schmitz OJ. 2008. Herbivory from individuals to ecosystems. Annu Rev Ecol Evol Syst 39:133–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Schroeder T, Lewis M, Kilpatrick A, Moseby K. 2015. Dingo interactions with exotic mesopredators: spatiotemporal dynamics in an Australian arid-zone study. Wildl Res 42:529–39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Spiegelhalter D, Thomas A, Best N, Lunn D. 2014. OpenBUGS User Manual. Version 3.2.3.Google Scholar
  50. Stephens PA, Pettorelli N, Barlow J, Whittingham MJ, Cadotte MW. 2015. Management by proxy? The use of indices in applied ecology. J Appl Ecol 52:1–6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Stewart-Oaten A, Murdoch WW, Parker KR. 1986. Environmental impact assessment: “Pseudoreplication” in time? Ecology 67:929–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Thomson P. 1992. The behavioural ecology of dingoes in north-western Australia. IV. Social and spatial organistaion, and movements. Wildl Res 19:543–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Wallach AD, Johnson CN, Ritchie EG, O’Neill AJ. 2010. Predator control promotes invasive dominated ecological states. Ecol Lett 13:1008–18.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Arid Recovery Ltd.Roxby DownsAustralia
  2. 2.Centre for Ecosystem ScienceUniversity of New South WalesSydneyAustralia
  3. 3.School of Life and Environmental SciencesUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia

Personalised recommendations