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A rodent herbivore reduces its predation risk through ecosystem engineering

Citation

Zhong, Zhiwei et al. (2022), A rodent herbivore reduces its predation risk through ecosystem engineering, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.cvdncjt57

Abstract

Predator-prey interactions are ubiquitous and powerful forces structuring ecological communities [1, 2, 3]. Habitat complexity has been shown to be particularly important in regulating the strength of predator-prey interactions [4, 5]. It is now relatively well known that changes in habitat structure can alter the patterns and efficacy of predatory and anti-predatory behaviors of interacting predators and prey [3, 4, 6]. Nevertheless, little is known about the consequences of engineering activity by species on their own predation risk, despite of the fact that many ecosystem engineers themselves face pervasive predation risk in natural ecosystems. With a combination of field surveys and manipulative experiments, we evaluated how habitat modification by Brandt’s voles influences predation risk from avian predators (shrikes) in a steppe grassland, Inner Mongolian, China. We found that voles actively modify habitat structure by cutting down a large, unpalatable grass species in the presence of shrikes, an effect that disappeared when these avian predators were excluded experimentally. Such damage activities of rodents dramatically decreased the volume of unpalatable grasses, which in turn, reduced visitations by shrikes and thus the mortality rate of voles. Our study documented that herbivorous prey, when acting as ecosystem engineers, can indirectly reduce their own predation risk by modifying habitat structure. Given the pervasive of predation risk faced by consumers, and the ability of many consumers to alter the habitat structure in which they live, the interplay between predation risk and ecosystem engineering may be an important mechanism in driving the structure and dynamics of natural communities.