Risky times and risky places interact to affect prey behaviour


Both short-term and long-term variation in predation risk can affect the behaviour of prey, thus affecting growth, reproduction, survival and population dynamics. Inferences about the strength of such ‘risk effects’ in the wild have been limited by a lack of studies that relate antipredator responses to the magnitude of direct predation, measure responses of prey to risk from complete predator guilds, and quantify risk in more than one way. Here, we quantify behavioural responses of a complete ungulate prey guild to long-term and short-term variation in risks from all of the large predators in Liuwa Plain National Park, with known patterns of direct predation. Our analysis allows the first direct test for interaction between responses to long-term and short-term risk in the wild, and reveals that prey vigilance responds strongly to locations with high long-term risk when short-term risk is high, but not when short-term risk is low. This result has broad ramifications for the design and interpretation of field studies of antipredator behaviour, its costs and its consequences for population dynamics.

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We thank the Barotse Royal Establishment, the Department of National Parks and Wildlife in Zambia and African Parks for their permission and collaboration to conduct the fieldwork for this study. Funding was provided by WWF-Netherlands, African Parks Network, National Science Foundation Animal Behaviour Program (IOS-1145749), and Painted Dog Conservation Inc. Egil Dröge was supported by a Dissertation Completion Award from the Graduate School at Montana State University. Furthermore, we thank A. Chinga, F. Corry, G. Ellis, D. Hafey, V. Hoffman, T. Mukula, D. Mutanga, D. Smit and J. Tembo for fieldwork assistance.

Author information




S.C. developed the methods of data collection. S.C., M.S.B., E.D. and J.M. designed the study in Liuwa Plain National Park. E.D., J.M. and M.S.B. collected the data. E.D., with the assistance of S.C., performed the data analysis and wrote the manuscript. The other authors provided input on all earlier versions of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Egil Dröge.

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Dröge, E., Creel, S., Becker, M.S. et al. Risky times and risky places interact to affect prey behaviour. Nat Ecol Evol 1, 1123–1128 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41559-017-0220-9

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