By Tenaya Duncan. Linear clearings are everywhere. We use them every day, to get to work, take the dog for a walk, get to our office or the shops or even to go on a road trip. Roads, footpaths and hallways, free of obstruction, make our travel more efficient. And we aren’t the only ones that benefit from them.
Generalist predators such as wolves, foxes and dingoes often use linear clearings such as roads, tracks and seismic lines to facilitate movement and access to new areas.
The use of linear features by predators can impact predator-prey dynamics. Linear features can increase encounter rates with prey, decreasing predators’ search time, and allow access to novel prey. Linear features could therefore cause a change in predator diet.
Dingoes are generalist hunters that eat a broad range of animals, from livestock down to invertebrates. They will even include vegetation in their diet. Mammals make up the largest component of dingo diet, with macropod species (kangaroos and wallabies) being the most frequently consumed group. In addition to native mammals, dingoes frequently consume introduced herbivores such as rabbits and livestock. Reptile and bird species are also part of the dingo diet, being more common in the diet of dingoes living in arid and semi-arid areas. Dingoes also commonly scavenge on carrion, including marine mammals and turtles scavenged along beaches.
I had the not so pleasurable task of examining 199 dingo scats collected from a site in the West Kimberley during 3 collection time points: 2 months before seismic line clearing for oil and gas exploration, as well as 1 and 8 months after the clearing to determine to see if clearing had an impact on dingo diet.
Mammals were frequently consumed, with cattle being the most frequently consumed diet item in these dingoes’ diets (65% of samples analysed). This is the highest consumption of cattle in dingo diet known in Australia. Next was agile wallabies (25%). Other mammals included four other macropod species, savanna glider, two native rodent species and echidna. Bird (8%) and reptile (3%) species were also recorded.
Despite the linear clearings increasing access to the landscape, there was no overall change in dingo diet detected, demonstrating that seismic line clearing had no marked impact on their diet.
This research is the first to be conducted in Australia. While the creation of linear clearings may affect the behaviour of predators and alter predator-prey dynamics, we found no evidence that seismic lines represents such a risk in the West Kimberley.
This paper can be found here: