Niche overlap between marsupial and eutherian carnivores: does competition threaten the endangered spotted-tailed quoll?
The significance of top-down regulation by carnivores is receiving increasing global recognition. As a consequence, key objectives in many programmes that seek to maintain ecosystem function now include conserving carnivores and understanding their interactions. This study examined overlap in resource use (space and diet) of introduced eutherian carnivores and an endangered marsupial carnivore, the spotted-tailed quoll Dasyurus maculatus, in eastern Australia. We also investigated mechanisms of niche partitioning and evidence for interspecific aggression. Dietary overlap between quolls, red foxes Vulpes vulpes and wild dogs Canis lupus ssp. was assessed by analysis of scats. Trapping, radio-tracking and direct observations were used to quantify spatial overlap between quolls, foxes, wild dogs and feral cats Felis catus. Dietary overlap among the carnivores was extensive. Medium-sized mammals were the most important prey for all three predators, indicating potential for exploitative interactions. However, hunting of different size classes of secondary prey and consumption by quolls of more arboreal prey than their counterparts may assist coexistence. Remains of quoll were found in two dog scats, and cat hair in another, possibly indicating intraguild predation. We observed extensive spatial overlap between quolls and eutherian carnivores. However, we inferred from dietary data that quolls foraged primarily in forested habitat, while canids foraged mainly in cleared habitat. Synthesis and applications. Our results indicate strong potential for competition between spotted-tailed quolls and eutherian carnivores, and thus a situation where control of introduced predators may be desirable, not only for the conservation of prey species but also for the protection of native carnivores. Concern over potential non-target mortality of quolls has hindered efforts to control foxes in eastern Australia using poison baits. We contend that, rather than harming quoll populations, baiting for foxes should aid the conservation of quolls and should be implemented in areas of sympatry where fox numbers are high.