What explains variation in the strength of behavioral responses to predation risk? A standardized test with large carnivore and ungulate guilds in three ecosystems

Scott Creel, Matt Becker, Egil Dröge, Jassiel M'soka, Wigganson Matandiko, Eli Rosenblatt, Thandiwe Mweetwa, Henry Mwape, Milan Vinks, Ben Goodheart, Johnathan Merkle, Teddy Mukula, Daan Smit, Carolyn Sanguinetti, Chase Dart, David A Christianson, Paul Schuette

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

4 Scopus citations

Abstract

If access to food is affected by the risk of predation, then the number of individuals killed by predators is an incomplete measure of the limiting effect of predation. Nonetheless, it is often assumed that the costs of antipredator responses (risk effects) are either small enough to be ignored or positively correlated with direct predation, and thus unlikely to alter inferences based on predation rates. These assumptions are rarely tested. Here we studied five large carnivores and ten prey species in three Zambian ecosystems to test relationships between direct predation, antipredator vigilance and trade-offs with foraging. The presence of a predator caused vigilance to increase by a factor of 2.4, with substantial variation among prey species in the strength of this response. This was associated with a 28% decrease in the proportion of individuals foraging, a trade-off that was consistent across species. We detected no correlation between direct predation and the strength of antipredator responses, which undermines the gambit of ignoring risk effects. The strength of antipredator responses was uncorrelated with broad attributes of predators and environments, but was correlated with attributes of prey. Responses were stronger for small species and for browsers/mixed feeders relative to grazers. It has previously been noted that small ungulates face higher rates of direct predation. Building on this inference, our results suggest that carnivore loss/restoration will also have stronger behaviorally-mediated effects on small ungulates, particularly browsers and mixed feeders. If such species increase their representation where carnivores are depleted, then cascading effects on vegetation would be expected.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)164-172
Number of pages9
JournalBiological Conservation
Volume232
DOIs
StatePublished - Apr 1 2019

Keywords

  • Large carnivore
  • Predation
  • Predator-prey dynamics
  • Risk effect
  • Ungulate

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation

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    Creel, S., Becker, M., Dröge, E., M'soka, J., Matandiko, W., Rosenblatt, E., Mweetwa, T., Mwape, H., Vinks, M., Goodheart, B., Merkle, J., Mukula, T., Smit, D., Sanguinetti, C., Dart, C., Christianson, D. A., & Schuette, P. (2019). What explains variation in the strength of behavioral responses to predation risk? A standardized test with large carnivore and ungulate guilds in three ecosystems. Biological Conservation, 232, 164-172. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2019.02.012