Sympatric prey responses to lethal top-predator control: predator manipulation experiments
Many prey species around the world are suffering declines due to a variety of interacting causes such as land use change, climate change, invasive species and novel disease. Recent studies on the ecological roles of top-predators have suggested that lethal top-predator control by humans (typically undertaken to protect livestock or managed game from predation) is an indirect additional cause of prey declines through trophic cascade effects. Such studies have prompted calls to prohibit lethal top-predator control with the expectation that doing so will result in widespread benefits for biodiversity at all trophic levels. However, applied experiments investigating in situ responses of prey populations to contemporary top-predator management practices are few and none have previously been conducted on the eclectic suite of native and exotic mammalian, reptilian, avian and amphibian predator and prey taxa we simultaneously assess. We conducted a series of landscape-scale, multi-year, manipulative experiments at nine sites spanning five ecosystem types across the Australian continental rangelands to investigate the responses of sympatric prey populations to contemporary poison-baiting programs intended to control top-predators (dingoes) for livestock protection.