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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Training Tammar Wallabies (Macropus eugenii) to Respond to Predators: A Review Linking Experimental Psychology to Conservation

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Animals bred in captivity often suffer high levels of predation after release into the wild. Prerelease predator avoidance training has been undertaken to try to improve antipredator skills. Applied research on predator avoidance learning in birds and mammals has not benefited from the empirical findings of extensive basic research, as it has been the case for fish. Consequently, this field has progressed slowly and the utility of prerelease antipredator training as a conservation strategy remains controversial. Here, I report one experiment and review two others that illustrate the way in which principles and experimental designs borrowed from classic studies of animal learning can be used to develop predator avoidance training techniques and to establish the content of learning. Results show that tammar wallabies ( Macropus eugenii ), an Australian macropodid marsupial, can acquire a fear response that is specific to predators, but that the likelihood of learning is dependent upon subtle details of the training protocol. Differential reinforcement of predator and non-predator stimuli has the potential to enhance the specificity of learning, if necessary. I discuss the implications of these results for the field of predator avoidance training and suggest that a controlled experimental approach, which enables the content of learning to be described, will be the most fruitful for this research area in the long term.

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