Australian Journal of Zoology Australian Journal of Zoology Society
Evolutionary, molecular and comparative zoology
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Benefits of being a generalist carnivore when threatened by climate change: the comparative dietary ecology of two sympatric semelparous marsupials, including a new endangered species (Antechinus arktos)

Emma L. Gray A D , Chris J. Burwell B C and Andrew M. Baker A B
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A School of Earth, Environmental and Biological Sciences, Science and Engineering Faculty, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Qld 4000, Australia.

B Biodiversity Program, Queensland Museum, Brisbane, Qld 4101, Australia.

C Environmental Futures Research Institute and Griffith School of Environment, Griffith University, Nathan, Qld 4111, Australia.

D Corresponding author. Email: el.gray@connect.qut.edu.au

Australian Journal of Zoology 64(4) 249-261 https://doi.org/10.1071/ZO16044
Submitted: 28 June 2016  Accepted: 28 September 2016   Published: 14 November 2016

Abstract

The endangered black-tailed dusky antechinus (Antechinus arktos) was described in 2014, so most aspects of its ecology are unknown. We examined diet composition and prey selection of A. arktos and a sympatric congener, the northern form of A. stuartii, at two sites in Springbrook National Park. Overall, taxa from 25 invertebrate orders were identified in the diets from 252 scat samples. Dietary components were similar for each species, but A. arktos consumed a higher frequency and volume of dipteran larvae and Diplopoda, while A. stuartii consumed more Coleoptera, Lepidoptera, Orthoptera and Isopoda. Both species of Antechinus had a higher percentage of ‘empty’ scats (devoid of any identifiable invertebrate material) in 2014 compared with 2015. The former was a drier year overall. Lower rainfall may have reduced abundance and diversity of arthropod prey, causing both species to supplement their diet with soft-bodied prey items such as earthworms, which are rarely detected in scats. Comparison of prey in scats with invertebrate captures from pitfall traps showed both species to be dietary generalists, despite exhibiting distinct preference and avoidance of certain prey categories. The ability of an endangered generalist marsupial to switch prey may be particularly advantageous considering the anticipated effects of climate change on Gondwanan rainforests during the mid-late 21st century.

Additional keywords: diet, faeces, invertebrates, prey selection.


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