Overcoming prey naiveté: Free-living marsupials develop recognition and effective behavioral responses to alien predators in Australia

Glob Chang Biol. 2019 May;25(5):1685-1695. doi: 10.1111/gcb.14607. Epub 2019 Mar 24.


Naiveté in prey arises from novel ecological mismatches in cue recognition systems and antipredator responses following the arrival of alien predators. The multilevel naiveté framework suggests that animals can progress through levels of naiveté toward predator awareness. Alternatively, native prey may be preadapted to recognize novel predators via common constituents in predator odors or familiar predator archetypes. We tested predictions of these competing hypotheses on the mechanisms driving behavioral responses of native species to alien predators by measuring responses of native free-living northern brown bandicoots (Isoodon macrourus) to alien red fox (Vulpes vulpes) odor. We compared multiple bandicoot populations either sympatric or allopatric with foxes. Bandicoots sympatric with foxes showed recognition and appropriate antipredator behavior toward fox odor via avoidance. On the few occasions bandicoots did visit, their vigilance significantly increased, and their foraging decreased. In contrast, bandicoots allopatric with foxes showed no recognition of this predator cue. Our results suggest that vulnerable Australian mammals were likely naïve to foxes when they first arrived, which explains why so many native mammals declined soon after fox arrival. Our results also suggest such naiveté can be overcome within a relatively short time frame, driven by experience with predators, thus supporting the multilevel naiveté framework.

Keywords: adaptation; antipredator behavior; eco-evolutionary experience; invasive alien species; predator recognition; prey naiveté.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Biological
  • Animals
  • Australia
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Cues
  • Foxes / physiology
  • Introduced Species*
  • Marsupialia / physiology*
  • Odorants
  • Recognition, Psychology / physiology*