Patch use and vigilance by sympatric lemmings in predator and competitor-driven landscapes of fear
Prey living in risky environments can adopt a variety of behavioral tactics to reduce predation risk. In systems where predators regulate prey abundance, it is reasonable to assume that differential patterns of habitat use by prey species represent adaptive responses to spatial variation in predation. However, patterns of habitat use also reflect interspecific competition over habitat. Collared (Dicrostonyx groenlandicus) and brown (Lemmus trimucronatus) lemmings represent such a system and possess distinct upland tundra versus mesic meadow habitat preferences consistent with interspecific competition. Yet, we do not know whether this habitat preference might also reflect differences in predation risk or whether the two species differ in their behavioral tactics used to avoid predation. We performed experiments where we manipulated putative predation risk perceived by lemmings by increasing protective cover in upland and meadow habitats while we recorded lemming activity and behavior. Both lemming species preferentially used cover more than open patches, but Dicrostonyx was more vigilant than Lemmus. Both species also constrained their activity to protective patches in upland and meadow habitats, but during different periods of the day. Use of cover and vigilance were independent of habitat, suggesting that both species live in a fearsome but flattened landscape of fear at Walker Bay (Nunavut, Canada), and that their habitat preference is a consequence of competition rather than predation risk. Future studies aiming to map the contours of fear in multi-prey–predator systems should consider how predation and competition interact to modify prey species’ habitat preference, patch use, and vigilance.
KeywordsActivity pattern Antipredator behavior Competition Dicrostonyx Lemmus Predation risk
We thank Canada’s International Polar Year program “Arctic Wildlife Observatories Linking Vulnerable EcoSystems”, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, Department of Indian and Northern Affairs, Northern Scientific Training Program, and Polar Continental Shelf Project (Natural Resources Canada), for financial and logistical support. We also thank Lakehead University’s Northern Studies Committee and Canada’s Summer Career Placements program for student support and the Government of Nunavut for permission and facilities to conduct this research. Our tests of predation’s effects on lemming habitat use benefitted from the assistance and cooperation of G. Gauthier, S. Vijayan, M. Moses, and R.W. Buchkowski. This contribution was improved by candid and helpful comments by B. Kotler and an anonymous referee. We thank you.
All experiments complied with animal utilization protocols certified by the Lakehead University Animal Care Committee.
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
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