Graduate Project


Innate behavioral responses to extirpated mammalian apex predators : can fear be utilized to manage populations and protect sensitive habitats Public Deposited

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  • I conducted a field study using gray wolf and mountain lion urine to investigate white-tailed deer and mesopredator behavioral responses to novel predator cues in a natural setting and to see if any changes in wildlife activity correspond to changes in the local biodiversity of a wetland environment. I created three study plots at two separate stream systems, to test differences in white-tailed deer and mesopredator visitation. Each stream system had a control unit, where I applied no predator cues, a wolf unit and a mountain lion unit, where I applied urine from the respective apex predator on a weekly basis. I placed video recording cameras at each unit, to capture wildlife activity over the course of twelve weeks. After my trail camera monitoring was completed, I performed transect surveys for vegetation and aquatic macroinvertebrates in all units to calculate local biodiversity indices. I discovered that ungulates temporarily avoid areas where gray wolf and mountain lion cues were present before becoming desensitized, but this area avoidance behavior appears to be longer lasting in areas treated with gray wolf cues. I did not observe any differences in male or female white-tailed deer visitation across sites. Mesopredators were shown to favor control sites over predator cue sites, but I cannot state definitively that this was a direct result of predator cues due to relatively few overall visitations. I found no significant variation in vegetation or aquatic macroinvertebrates after twelve weeks of predator cue application. I conclude that apex predators could be valuable biological control for ungulates and mesopredators in environments where they naturally exist, but innate fear responses to novel predator cues are limited and not sufficient in inducing top-down trophic cascade, due to behavioral acclimatization to the lack of threat. I suggest though that these innate fear responses provide a baseline for adaptive behavior changes that could result in top-down trophic cascade.
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