Finding food in a novel environment: The diet of a reintroduced endangered meso-predator to mainland Australia, with notes on foraging behaviour

Date: 17, Dec, 2020
Author(s):   Robinson, N.M., Blanchard, W., MacGregor, C., Brewster, R., Dexter, N., Lindenmayer, D.B.
Publisher: Plos One

Translocated captive-bred predators are less skilled at hunting than wild-born predators and more prone to starvation post-release. Foraging in an unfamiliar environment presents many further risks to translocated animals. Knowledge of the diet and foraging behaviour of translocated animals is therefore an important consideration of reintroductions. We investigated the diet of the endangered meso-predator, the eastern quoll Dasyurus viverrinus. We also opportunistically observed foraging behaviour, enabling us to examine risks associated with foraging. Sixty captive-bred eastern quolls were reintroduced to an unfenced reserve on mainland Australia (where introduced predators are managed) over a two year period (2018, 2019). Quolls were supplementary fed macropod meat but were also able to forage freely. Dietary analysis of scats (n = 56) revealed that quolls ate macropods, small mammals, birds, invertebrates, fish, reptiles and frogs, with some between-year differences in the frequency of different diet categories. We also observed quolls hunting live prey. Quolls utilised supplementary feeding stations, indicating that this may be an important strategy during the establishment phase. Our study demonstrated that, in a novel environment, captive-bred quolls were able to locate food and hunt live prey. However, foraging was not without risks; with the ingestion of toxic substances and foraging in dangerous environments found to be potentially harmful. Knowledge of the diet of reintroduced fauna in natural landscapes is important for understanding foraging behaviour and evaluating habitat suitability for future translocations and management.