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Foraging Ermine Avoid Risk: behavioural responses of a mesopredator to its interspecific competitors in a mammalian guild

Abstract

Interference competition between predators strongly influences the structure and composition of ecological communities. These interactions are usually asymmetrical as larger predators dominate in aggressive encounters. Smaller predators are forced to balance the conflicting demands of obtaining food while reducing the risk of a confrontation. We tested the behavioural responses of 16 wild captured stoats (Mustela erminea) to the presence of a feral cat (Felis catus) and a ferret (Mustela furo), which we refer to as “larger predators” due to their superior body size. Stoats were released individually into an outdoor arena and nocturnal activities were recorded on infra-red video cameras. On treatment nights, one of the larger predators was placed inside a segregated holding cage on one side of the arena, while an empty cage was placed on the opposite side as a control. A stoat’s daily food allocation was divided into two equal portions, one placed in front of each holding cage to form a food “patch”. Stoats’ perception of risk was assessed by comparing behaviour in the risky patch (close to the caged predator) versus the safe patch (close to the empty cage). Stoats harvested less food at the risky patch. They avoided the area containing the larger predator, both spatially and temporally, and increased vigilance at the risky patch. The results show that stoats alter their foraging behaviour due to perceived interference competition when they encounter larger predators. Understanding trophic interactions between invasive species will help to inform conservation decisions and maximise the effectiveness of management intervention.

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Acknowledgments

We wish to thank Mick Clout, Manpreet K. Dhami and Andrew Veale for helpful comments on the manuscript. Thanks to Guy Forrester for statistical advice. We would also like to thank Mike Wehner, Samantha Brown and Jane Arrow for their expert husbandry at the animal facility at Landcare Research. This work was supported by Core funding to Landcare Research from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s Science and Innovation Group, with additional support through the University of Auckland Doctoral Scholarship.

Ethical standard

This research was approved by the Landcare Research Animal Ethics Committee (AEC approval number 12/06/01). Approved applications comply with the Animal Welfare Laws 1999, Animal Code of Welfare 2012 and all additional New Zealand legislation.

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Correspondence to Patrick M. Garvey.

Electronic supplementary material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

Stoat facing directly towards the holding cage containing the ferret (MPG 5872 kb)

The cat attempts to pounce on a female stoat (MPG 3006 kb)

The cat attempts to catch a male stoat that climbs onto the holding cage (MPG 8356 kb)

Online Resource 1

Stoat facing directly towards the holding cage containing the ferret (MPG 5872 kb)

Online Resource 2

The cat attempts to pounce on a female stoat (MPG 3006 kb)

Online Resource 3

The cat attempts to catch a male stoat that climbs onto the holding cage (MPG 8356 kb)

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Garvey, P.M., Glen, A.S. & Pech, R.P. Foraging Ermine Avoid Risk: behavioural responses of a mesopredator to its interspecific competitors in a mammalian guild. Biol Invasions 17, 1771–1783 (2015) doi:10.1007/s10530-014-0833-8

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Keywords

  • Interference competition
  • Anti-predator behaviour
  • Predation risk
  • Invasive species
  • Fear