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Innate threat-sensitive foraging: black-tailed deer remain more fearful of wolf than of the less dangerous black bear even after 100 years of wolf absence

Abstract

Anti-predator behaviors often entail foraging costs, and thus prey response to predator cues should be adjusted to the level of risk (threat-sensitive foraging). Simultaneously dangerous predators (with high hunting success) should engender the evolution of innate predator recognition and appropriate anti-predator behaviors that are effective even upon the first encounter with the predator. The above leads to the prediction that prey might respond more strongly to cues of dangerous predators that are absent, than to cues of less dangerous predators that are actually present. In an applied context this would predict an immediate and stronger response of ungulates to the return of top predators such as wolves (Canis lupus) in many parts of Europe and North America than to current, less threatening, mesopredators. We investigated the existence of innate threat-sensitive foraging in black-tailed deer. We took advantage of a quasi-experimental situation where deer had not experienced wolf predation for ca. 100 years, and were only potentially exposed to black bears (Ursus americanus). We tested the response of deer to the urine of wolf (dangerous) and black bear (less dangerous). Our results support the hypothesis of innate threat-sensitive foraging with clear increased passive avoidance and olfactory investigation of cues from wolf, and surprisingly none to black bear. Prey which have previously evolved under high risk of predation by wolves may react strongly to the return of wolf cues in their environments thanks to innate responses retained during the period of predator absence, and this could be the source of far stronger non-consumptive effects of the predator guild than currently observed.

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Acknowledgments

This work was partially funded by the CNRS and project 2010-BLAN-1718 of the Agence Nationale de la Recherche. We are indebted to members of the Laskeek Bay Society for their support, and to Barb Roswell and Jake and Erin Pattisson for support in the field. The latter, as well as M. Valeix, C. Chamaillé, S. Padié and L. Forbes, made the fieldwork smooth-running and fun. P. Banks and two anonymous reviewers made helpful suggestions which improved the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Simon Chamaillé-Jammes.

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Communicated by Peter Banks.

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Chamaillé-Jammes, S., Malcuit, H., Le Saout, S. et al. Innate threat-sensitive foraging: black-tailed deer remain more fearful of wolf than of the less dangerous black bear even after 100 years of wolf absence. Oecologia 174, 1151–1158 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-013-2843-0

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-013-2843-0

Keywords

  • Behavior
  • Odor
  • Persistence
  • Predation risk
  • Relaxed selection