Owl predation on snowshoe hares: consequences of antipredator behaviour

Abstract

We show evidence of differential predation on snowshoe hares (Lepus americanus) by great horned owls (Bubo virginianus) and ask whether predation mortality is related to antipredator behaviour in prey. We predicted higher predation on (1) young and inexperienced hares, (2) hares in open habitats lacking cover to protect from owl predation, and (3) hares in above average condition assuming that rich food patches are under highest risk of predation. Information on killed hares was obtained at nest sites of owls and by monitoring hares using radio-telemetry. The availability of age classes within the hare population was established from live-trapping and field data on reproduction and survival. Great horned owls preferred juvenile over adult hares. Juveniles were more vulnerable to owl predation before rather than after dispersal, suggesting that displacement or increased mobility were not causes for this increased mortality. Owls killed ratio-collared hares more often in open than in closed forest types, and they avoided or had less hunting success in habitats with dense shrub cover. Also, owls took hares in above average condition, although it is unclear whether samples from early spring are representative for other seasons. In conclusion, these results are consistent with the hypothesis that variation in antipredator behaviours of snowshoe hares leads to differential predation by great horned owls.

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Correspondence to Christoph Rohner.

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Rohner, C., Krebs, C.J. Owl predation on snowshoe hares: consequences of antipredator behaviour. Oecologia 108, 303–310 (1996). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00334655

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Key words

  • Bubo virginianus
  • Differential predation
  • Lepus americanus
  • Population cycles
  • Predation risk