Wildlife Research Wildlife Research Society
Ecology, management and conservation in natural and modified habitats
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Conditioned taste aversion reduces fox depredation on model eggs on beaches

Grainne S. Maguire A D , Dejan Stojanovic B and Michael A. Weston A C
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Birds Australia, Suite 2-05, 60 Leicester Street, Carlton, Vic. 3053, Australia.

B School of Biological Sciences, Building A08, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia.

C School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Faculty of Science and Technology, Deakin University, 221 Burwood Highway, Burwood, Vic. 3125, Australia.

D Corresponding author. Email: g.maguire@birdsaustralia.com.au

Wildlife Research 36(8) 702-708 https://doi.org/10.1071/WR09123
Submitted: 15 September 2009  Accepted: 12 November 2009   Published: 16 December 2009

Abstract

Context. Conditioned taste aversion (CTA) is induced by an association of a food item with a negative experience, such as illness, which causes animals to avoid subsequent consumption of that particular food item. Inducing CTA may help reduce depredation rates of threatened fauna where predator population control is undesirable, impractical or unsuccessful.

Aims. We investigated whether CTA could be induced among foxes (Vulpes vulpes) to model eggs which mimicked those of the threatened hooded plover (Thinornis rubricollis).

Methods. Model eggs treated with a potential CTA-inducing chemical (sodium carbonate) and control eggs free of the agent were exposed to fox depredation for 28 days to simulate a hooded plover incubation period. To investigate whether CTA would persist in wild foxes, we implemented a part-time agent treatment (an initial 14 day exposure period of model eggs with the CTA agent followed by a second 14 day period when model eggs were free of the agent).

Key results. Similar intervals to the first depredation event were found for all model eggs regardless of treatment. After the first depredation event by foxes, the rate and likelihood of fox depredation was significantly lower in treated eggs than in control eggs. The likelihood or rate of depredation across the three treatments did not differ between the first and second periods.

Conclusions. Our results suggest that during an exposure period of at least 28 days, CTA can be induced in wild foxes to eggs on beaches. Our results also suggest that 14 days may be insufficient time for wild foxes to develop a lasting CTA to familiar food items such as eggs.

Implications. Treatment of eggs with a CTA-inducing chemical may present a viable alternative to traditional predator control techniques for hooded plovers, as well as other ground-nesting birds, provided that an extended exposure to the CTA-inducing agent occurs.

Additional keywords: conditioned taste aversion, fox, hooded plover, non-lethal predator control.


Acknowledgements

We thank Christopher Jackson, Cecilia Phu, Ric Ressom, Gus Stephens, Tijana Stojanovic and Erika Wagner for their assistance in the field. Pamela Maguire extracted data from the videos and Christopher R. Dickman provided extensive and valuable feedback on a draft of this manuscript. Jim Gill provided veterinary advice regarding sodium carbonate. Data were collected with approval by Sydney University Animal Ethics Committee and permits from the Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment (AEC L04/9–2006/1/4469; DSE licence no. 10003945). Funding and support was also provided by Birds Australia’s ‘Coexistence between recreationists and beach-nesting birds project’ funded by the Australian Government’s Caring for Our Country. Two anonymous referees commented on and improved the manuscript.


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