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Familiarity breeds contempt: kangaroos persistently avoid areas with experimentally deployed dingo scents

Parsons, M.H. and Blumstein, D.T. (2010) Familiarity breeds contempt: kangaroos persistently avoid areas with experimentally deployed dingo scents. PLoS ONE, 5 (5). e10403.

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Background: Whether or not animals habituate to repeated exposure to predator scents may depend upon whether there are predators associated with the cues. Understanding the contexts of habituation is theoretically important and has profound implication for the application of predator-based herbivore deterrents. We repeatedly exposed a mixed mob of macropod marsupials to olfactory scents (urine, feces) from a sympatric predator (Canis lupus dingo), along with a control (water). If these predator cues were alarming, we expected that over time, some red kangaroos (Macropus rufous), western grey kangaroos (Macropus fuliginosus) and agile wallabies (Macropus agilis) would elect to not participate in cafeteria trials because the scents provided information about the riskiness of the area. Methodology/Principal Findings: We evaluated the effects of urine and feces independently and expected that urine would elicit a stronger reaction because it contains a broader class of infochemicals (pheromones, kairomones). Finally, we scored non-invasive indicators (flight and alarm stomps) to determine whether fear or altered palatability was responsible for the response. Repeated exposure reduced macropodid foraging on food associated with 40 ml of dingo urine, X = 986.75±3.97 g food remained as compared to the tap water control, X = 209.0±107.0 g (P<0.001). Macropodids fled more when encountering a urine treatment, X = 4.50±2.08 flights, as compared to the control, X = 0 flights (P<0.001). There was no difference in effect between urine or feces treatments (P>0.5). Macropodids did not habituate to repeated exposure to predator scents, rather they avoided the entire experimental area after 10 days of trials (R2 = 83.8; P<0.001). Conclusions/Significance: Responses to urine and feces were indistinguishable; both elicited fear-based responses and deterred foraging. Despite repeated exposure to predator-related cues in the absence of a predator, macropodids persistently avoided an area of highly palatable food. Area avoidance is consistent with that observed from other species following repeated anti-predator conditioning, However, this is the first time this response has been experimentally observed among medium or large vertebrates 2 where a local response is observed spatially and an area effect is revealed over time.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences
Publisher: Public Library of Science
Copyright: © 2010 Parsons, Blumstein
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