Effects of temporal variation in the risk of predation by least weasel (Mustela nivalis) on feeding behavior of field vole (Microtus agrestis)

Elina Koivisto; Jyrki Pusenius
September 2003
Evolutionary Ecology;Sep2003, Vol. 17 Issue 5, p477
Academic Journal
Predation risk tends to vary in time. Thus prey animals face a problem of allocating feeding and antipredator effort across different risk situations. A recent model of Lima and Bednekoff (1999) predicts that a prey should allocate more feeding effort to low risk situations and more antipredator effort to high risk situations with increasing relative degree of risk in high risk situations (attack ratio). Furthermore when the proportion of time the prey spends in the high risk situation (p) increases, the prey have to eventually feed also in the high risk situations. However the increase in feeding effort in low risk situations should clearly exceed that in high risk situations as p increases. To test these predictions we measured feeding effort of field voles (Microtus agrestis) exposed to varying presence of least weasel (Mustela nivalis) and its feces in laboratory conditions. We generated quantitative predictions by estimating attack ratios from results of a pilot experiment. The model explained 15% of the observed variation in feeding effort of voles. Further analyses indicated that feeding effort was lower in high risk situations than in low risk situations at high attack ratio, but not at a lower one. Voles exposed to a presence of a weasel for extended periods showed signs of nutritional stress. Still we did not find any increase in feeding effort with increasing p. This was obviously due to the relatively low maximal p we used as we included only conditions likely to occur in nature.


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