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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)

Gray, Emma L., Burwell, Chris J., Baker, Andrew M.
Australian journal of zoology 2016 v.64 no.4 pp. 249-261
Antechinus, Coleoptera, Diplopoda, Isopoda, Lepidoptera, Orthoptera, arthropods, carnivores, climate change, diet, earthworms, endangered species, feces, insect larvae, national parks, pitfall traps, predation, rain, rain forests, sympatry
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.