Carcasses attract invasive species and increase artificial nest predation in a desert environment

Date: 18, Apr, 2021
Author(s):   Spencer, E.E., Dickman, C.R., Greenville, A., Crowther, M.S., Kutt, A., Newsome, T.M.
Publisher: Global Conservation and Ecology

In addition to feeding on animal remains, many scavengers also function as predators. Carcasses may therefore affect local animal communities by attracting facultative scavengers and increasing predation riskfor other species in the vicinity of the carcasses. This risk may be elevated in low productivity environments, especially where humans increase carcass production and where facultative scavengers include invasive species. In June and October 2018, we monitored experimentally placed red kangaroo (Osphranter rufus) carcasses and artificial bird nests in two different habitats in the Simpson Desert, Australia, to identify the nest predators attracted to the carcasses, and to determine how carcasses affect overall and predator-specific nest predation. We modelled our nests to approximate those of the ground nesting little buttonquail (Turnix velox) and the endangered night parrot (Pezoporus occidentalis). Native Corvus spp. and then invasive red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) were the top carcass visitors and nest egg predators. Carcass presence and open habitat increased overall nest predation and fewer artificial parrot nest eggs were depredated compared to those of quail. Open habitat and carcass presence only increased predator-specific nest predation by foxes, but corvid nest predation was highest in June 2018, and for the artificial quail nest types. Foxes were the main predator of eggs from night parrot nests. Our study shows that carcass provisioning by humans may have indirect, deleterious effects on ground nesting birds, and indicates that foxes might pose a greater threat to night parrot populations than previously recognised.