, Volume 16, Issue 4, pp 617-626
Date: 25 Jan 2013

Community Response of Mammalian Predators and Their Prey to Motorways: Implications for Predator–Prey Dynamics

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Understanding the interactions between predators and prey is essential for predicting the effects of disturbances to ecosystems. Motorways produce changes in the surrounding biotic and abiotic environment and hence have multiple impacts on wildlife. Some species are known to change their activity patterns in the proximity of motorways but the implications for the structure of food webs are unknown. This study analyzes the activity patterns of both mammalian predators and their prey species near nine motorways in attempt to clarify how motorways affect the mammalian community. Habitat structural variables were also sampled to control the effects of microhabitat on relative prey abundance. Our results revealed different activity patterns of both predators and prey near motorways that are independent of structural differences in microhabitat. Both the red fox and small mammals were found to use the zone close to the motorways more frequently, whereas lagomorphs and mustelids were less active there. These differences suggest that motorways favor the population of the predator that is most tolerant of human activity, the red fox, whose activity could have both direct and indirect effects on that of other members of the predator and prey community. On the one hand, the red fox seems to act as “top predator” and mustelids to follow a “safety match” strategy avoiding the area close to the motorway where fox is more active. On the other hand, abundances of prey species are negatively associated with the activity of their most frequent predators. This study is the first to assess how the proximity to motorways affects the activity of mammals in two levels of the food web and opens the field for research to understand the processes driving the detected patterns. Moreover, such effects at the community scale should be taken into account when evaluating the impacts of motorways on the surrounding ecosystems.

Author Contributions

Pablo Ruiz-Capillas: performed research, analyzed data, wrote the paper; Cristina Mata: designed study, performed research, analyzed data, wrote the paper; Juan E. Malo: conceived study, analyzed data, wrote the paper.