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Risky business: how an herbivore navigates spatio-temporal aspects of risk from competitors and predators

Citation

Huggler, Katey et al. (2022), Risky business: how an herbivore navigates spatio-temporal aspects of risk from competitors and predators, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.0rxwdbs2w

Abstract

Understanding factors that influence animal behavior is central to ecology. Basic principles of animal ecology imply that individuals should seek to maximize survival and reproduction, which means carefully weighing risk against reward. Decisions become increasingly complex and constrained, however, when risk is spatiotemporally variable. We advance a growing body of work in predator-prey behavior by evaluating novel questions where a prey species is confronted with multiple predators and a potential competitor. We tested how fine-scale behavior of female mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) during the reproductive season shifted depending upon spatial and temporal variation in risk from predators and a potential competitor. We expected female deer to avoid areas of high risk when movement activity of predators and a competitor were high. We used GPS data collected from 65 adult female mule deer, 35 adult female elk, 33 adult coyotes, and six adult mountain lions. Counter to our expectations, female deer exhibited selection for multiple risk factors, however, selection for risk was dampened by the exposure to risk within deer home ranges, producing a functional response in habitat selection. Furthermore, temporal variation in movement activity of predators and elk across the diel cycle did not result in a shift in movement activity by female deer. Instead, the average level of risk within their home range was the predominant factor modulating the response to risk by female deer. Our results counter prevailing hypotheses of how large herbivores navigate risky landscapes, and emphasize the importance of accounting for the local environment when identifying effects of risk on animal behavior. Moreover, our findings highlight additional behavioral mechanisms used by large herbivores to mitigate multiple sources of predation and potential competitive interactions.

Funding