Analyzing the proximity to cover in a landscape of fear: A new approach applied to fine-scale habitat use by rabbits facing feral cat predation on Kerguelen archipelago
AuthorBlanchard, Pierrick; Lauzeral, Christine; Chamaille-Jammes, Simon; Yoccoz, Nigel Gilles; Pontier, Dominique
Although proximity to cover has been routinely considered as an explanatory variable in studies investigating prey behavioral adjustments to predation pressure, the way it shapes risk perception still remains equivocal. This paradox arises from both the ambivalent nature of cover as potentially both obstructive and protective, making its impact on risk perception complex and context-dependent, and from the choice of the proxy used to measure proximity to cover in the field, which leads to an incomplete picture of the landscape of fear experienced by the prey. Here, we study a simple predator-prey-habitat system, i.e., rabbits Oryctolagus cuniculus facing feral cat Felis catus predation on Kerguelen archipelago. We assess how cover shapes risk perception in prey and develop an easily implementable field method to improve the estimation of proximity to cover. In contrast to protocols considering the “distance to nearest cover”, we focus on the overall “area to cover”. We show that fine-scale habitat use by rabbits is clearly related to our measure, in accordance with our hypothesis of higher risk in patches with smaller area to cover in this predator-prey-habitat system. In contrast, classical measures of proximity to cover are not retained in the best predictive models of habitat use. The use of this new approach, together with a more in-depth consideration of contrasting properties of cover, could help to better understand the role of this complex yet decisive parameter for predator-prey ecology.
Source: doi: 10.7717/peerj.1769