Top carnivores increase their kill rates on prey as a response to human-induced fear

Smith JA, Wang Y, Wilmers CC. (2015)

Abstract: The fear induced by predators on their prey is well known to cause behavioural adjustments by prey that can ripple through food webs. Little is known, however, about the analogous impacts of humans as perceived top predators on the foraging behaviour of carnivores. Here, we investigate the influence of human-induced fear on puma foraging behaviour using location and prey consumption data from 30 tagged individuals living along a gradient of human development. We observed strong behavioural responses by female pumas to human development, whereby their fidelity to kill sites and overall consumption time of prey declined with increasing housing density by 36 and 42%, respectively. Females responded to this decline in prey consumption time by increasing the number of deer they killed in high housing density areas by 36% over what they killed in areas with little residential development. The loss of food from declines in prey consumption time paired with increases in energetic costs associated with killing more prey may have consequences for puma populations, particularly with regard to reproductive success. In addition, greater carcass availability is likely to alter community dynamics by augmenting food resources for scavengers. In light of the extensive and growing impact of habitat modification, our study emphasizes that knowledge of the indirect effects of human activity on animal behaviour is a necessary component in understanding anthropogenic impacts on community dynamics and food web function.

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