University Of Tasmania

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Avoiding the subject: the implications of avoidance behaviour for detecting predators

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-19, 05:14 authored by Fancourt, BA
Estimating predator abundance can be challenging. Many predators are inherently difficult to detect due to their low population densities, large home ranges and cryptic behaviour. Detection rates derived from camera traps, spotlight surveys and track counts in sand plots are often used as indices of abundance. However, many factors can influence a species’ detection rate and the extent to which it might reflect the species’ actual abundance. I investigated the relationships between detections, abundance and activity of two sympatric predators, the Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii) and the feral cat (Felis catus). I used camera traps to detect devils and feral cats across eastern Tasmania in southern Australia, where devil populations have progressively and variably declined since 1996 following the spread of the fatal devil facial tumour disease. Devil and cat detections on individual cameras were negatively correlated; however, this was unrelated to abundance. While cats and devils were detected at nearly all of the same sites, cats appeared to avoid devils over short distances, suggesting that negative relationships in detections at the camera scale may reflect fine-scale behavioural avoidance rather than suppression of abundance. These findings highlight the importance of understanding avoidance behaviour when designing surveys to detect predators and when using indices to infer interactions or numerical relationships among sympatric predators. These findings also provide a cautionary tale that highlights the need to consider alternative hypotheses to explain observed patterns, as the implications for species conservation and management outcomes could vary dramatically.


Publication title

Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology










School of Natural Sciences



Place of publication

175 Fifth Ave, New York, USA, Ny, 10010

Rights statement

copyright 2016 Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg

Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Assessment and management of Antarctic and Southern Ocean ecosystems