Spatio-temporal dynamics in the response of woodland caribou and moose to the passage of grey wolf

  • Predators impact prey populations not only by consuming individuals, but also by altering their behaviours. These nonlethal effects can influence food web properties as much as lethal effects. The mechanisms of nonlethal effects include chronic and temporary anti-predator behaviours, the nature of which depends on the spatial dynamics of predators and the range over which prey perceive risk.
  • The relation between chronic and ephemeral responses to risk determines predator–prey interactions, with consequences that can ripple across the food web. Nonetheless, few studies have quantified the spatio-temporal scales over which prey respond to predation threat, and how this response varies with habitat features.
  • We evaluated the reaction of radio-collared caribou and moose to the passage of radio-collared wolves, by considering changes in movement characteristics during winter and summer. We used an optimization algorithm to identify the rate at which the impact of prior passage of wolves decreases over time and with the predator’s distance.
  • The spatial and temporal scales of anti-predator responses varied with prey species and season. Caribou and moose displayed four types of behaviour following the passage of wolves: lack of response, increased selection of safe land cover types, decreased selection of risky cover types and increased selection of food-rich forest stands. For example, moose increased their avoidance of open conifer stands with lichen in summer, which are selected by wolves in this season. Also in winter, caribou increased their selection of conifer stands with lichen for nearly 10 days following a wolf’s passage. This stronger selection for food-rich patches could indicate that the recent passage of wolves informs caribou on the current predator distribution and reveals the rate at which this information become less reliable over time.
  • Caribou and moose used anti-predator responses that combine both long- and short-term behavioural adjustments. The spatial game between wolves and their prey involves complex and nonlinear mechanisms that vary between species and seasons. A comprehensive assessment of risk effects on ecosystem dynamics thus requires the characterization of chronic and temporary anti-predator behaviours.

Latombe, G., Fortin, D., Parrott, L. (2013), Spatio-temporal dynamics in the response of woodland caribou and moose to the passage of grey wolf. Journal of Animal Ecology. doi: 10.1111/1365-2656.12108

Available in: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1365-2656.12108/abstract

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