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The effects of keystone resources and landscape of fear in modulating the spatiotemporal use of paca (Cuniculus paca) in Brazilian Atlantic Forest

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Paca (Cuniculus paca) is a medium-sized caviomorph rodent that plays an important role in the dynamics of plant and animal diversity in Neotropical forests. Despite being a generalist species, habitat use can be influenced by the availability of resources, cover, and shelter, but also by the landscape of fear. We investigated whether paca habitat use is mainly driven by resource availability and/or the landscape of fear in a spatiotemporal context in the Atlantic Forest montane of Brazil. We used camera traps and generalized least squares models to investigate the influence of lunar phases on the modulation of environmental factors in paca habitat use and the effects on the prey–predator activity pattern. The availability of food resources, specifically Juçara palm (Euterpe edulis) and Paraná pine (Araucaria angustifolia), was the best predictor to explain paca habitat use, regardless of moonlight. These threatened and dominant trees provide keystone resources for paca safely and efficiently in the study area. However, we found that moonlight can alter the importance of the effect of its main predator (Puma concolor), on the spatiotemporal use of the paca. The risk of predation has a greater impact on the paca's habitat use during phases of intense moonlight, and as an anti-predation strategy, the paca changes its activity pattern precisely during these periods. Although the conservation status of the paca is of least concern, our results have highlighted its important ecosystem role in Neotropical forests, interacting strongly with key and threatened species of the Atlantic Forest.

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The data that support the findings of this study are available on request from the corresponding author.


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We thank everyone who contributed to the data collection used in this study, especially Fernando Puertas and Thamíris Abreu. We also thank Laodicéia Pereira, Patrícia Ferreira, and Agnis Cristiane Souza for their assistance in the field and Paulo Guilherme Cruz for support with the map. We thank the Alto-Montana Institute and PNHR, mainly Paulo Pêgas, for hosting and logistical support, as well as INP, in particular Marcelo Motta for all assistance and logistics.


The study was conducted in receipt of grants from the Tropical Forest Conservation Act/Fundo Brasileiro da Biodiversidade (TFCA/FUNBIO). This study was also financed in part by the Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior–Brazil (CAPES), by the Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico—Brazil (CNPq) and the Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa de Minas Gerais (FAPEMIG). CAPES provided grants to MMD, RCP, LGR and RLM. The translation and revision from English were financed by Universidade Federal de Lavras through Programa de Apoio a Publicação Científica em Periódicos de Alto Impacto (PAPC).

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MMD wrote the manuscript and collected and analyzed the data. RFP analyzed the data and wrote and reviewed the manuscript. CR conceived the sampling design, collected data, and reviewed the manuscript. RLM and LGR analyzed the data and reviewed the manuscript. MP conceived the sampling design and wrote and reviewed the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Mateus Melo-Dias.

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The authors have no conflicts of interest to declare.

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All procedures performed with wild animals in this study will follow the ethical guidelines for animal care and welfare as outlined in the American Society of Mammalogists Guidelines for the Use of Wild Mammals in Research and the ARRIVE Guidelines.

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Handling editor: Carlos Rouco.

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Melo-Dias, M., Pedroso, R.F., Rosa, C. et al. The effects of keystone resources and landscape of fear in modulating the spatiotemporal use of paca (Cuniculus paca) in Brazilian Atlantic Forest. Mamm Biol (2024).

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