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Prey tells, large herbivores fear the human ‘super predator’

Abstract

Fear of the human ‘super predator’ has been demonstrated to so alter the feeding behavior of large carnivores as to cause trophic cascades. It has yet to be experimentally tested if fear of humans has comparably large effects on the feeding behavior of large herbivores. We conducted a predator playback experiment exposing white-tailed deer to the vocalizations of humans, extant or locally extirpated non-human predators (coyotes, cougars, dogs, wolves), or non-predator controls (birds), at supplemental food patches to measure the relative impacts on deer feeding behavior. Deer were more than twice as likely to flee upon hearing humans than other predators, and hearing humans was matched only by hearing wolves in reducing overall feeding time gaged by visits to the food patch in the following hour. Combined with previous, site-specific research linking deer fecundity to predator abundance, this study reveals that fear of humans has the potential to induce a larger effect on ungulate reproduction than has ever been reported. By demonstrating that deer most fear the human ‘super predator’, our results point to the fear humans induce in large ungulates having population- and community-level impacts comparable to those caused by the fear humans induce in large carnivores.

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Data availability

Cleaned datasets and code to reproduce reported results and included figures are available upon reasonable request to the corresponding author and will be made publicly available on Dryad prior to publication.

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Funding

This work was funded by the Jones Center at Ichauway [Grant no. JCI2020-06] and Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada grants awarded to Liana Y. Zanette.

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Authors

Contributions

DAC carried out the data collection and statistical analyses, participated in the design of the study, and drafted the manuscript; LMC participated in the design of the study and critically revised the manuscript; MC participated in the design of the study and helped draft the manuscript; LYZ participated in the design of the study and critically revised the manuscript; MJC participated in the design of the study, helped draft the manuscript, and critically revised the manuscript. All authors gave final approval for publication and agree to be held accountable for the work performed therein.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Daniel A. Crawford.

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Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Additional information

This research was a collaboration among the labs of the Principal Investigators Cherry, Conner, Zanette.

Communicated by Indrikis Krams.

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Crawford, D.A., Conner, L.M., Clinchy, M. et al. Prey tells, large herbivores fear the human ‘super predator’. Oecologia 198, 91–98 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-021-05080-w

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-021-05080-w

Keywords

  • Ecology of fear
  • Behavioral response
  • Odocoileus virginianus
  • Perceived predation risk
  • Playback experiment