, Volume 9, Issue 1, pp 70-74
Date: 07 Feb 2012

The Ecology of Fear: Host Foraging Behavior Varies with the Spatio-temporal Abundance of a Dominant Ectoparasite

Abstract

Prey engage in myriad behaviors to avoid predation, and these indirect effects of predators on their prey are often measured by the amount of food abandoned by a forager (the “giving-up density”, or GUD) in a given habitat. Recent evidence suggests that hosts may engage in comparable behaviors to avoid exposure to parasites. We investigated changes in local foraging and regional space use by mammal hosts for the lone star tick (Amblyomma americanum), using GUDs as an indicator of the perceived risk of parasitism. At eight study sites at the Tyson Research Center (Eureka, MO), we placed two feeding trays, one on the ground and one at 1.5 m height in a tree, in order to assess how the emergence of ground-dwelling ticks affected foraging by several mammal species both locally (between the two GUD stations) and regionally (among the eight sites, mean distance 1064 m apart). Though GUDs did not differ between the ground and tree GUD stations, we did find that greater amounts of food were “given-up” at sites with higher abundances of ticks. This increase in food abandonment suggests that hosts respond to the risk of parasitism and alter their space use accordingly, potentially affecting a cascade of other ecological interactions across large spatial scales.