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Proc Biol Sci. 2001 Dec 22;268(1485):2585-8.

The effects of temporal variation in predation risk on anti-predator behaviour: an empirical test using marine snails.

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  • 1Behavioural Ecology Research Group, Department of Biological Sciences, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada V5A 1S6.


Foraging animals must often balance the conflicting demands of finding food and avoiding predators. Temporal variation in predation risk is expected to influence how animals allocate time to these behaviours. Counterintuitively, the proportion of time spent foraging during both high- and low-risk periods should increase with increasing time exposed to high risk. We tested this prediction using intertidal marine snails (Littorina spp.) that were exposed to temporal variation in perceived predation risk from crabs (Cancer productus and Cancer magister). Our results were consistent with those predicted for high-risk, but not low-risk, periods. During high-risk periods, a greater number of snails foraged (versus those that left the water or remained in their shells) as time at high perceived risk increased. For low-risk periods, there was no relationship between the number of snails foraging and time at high risk. This might be due to snails in all treatments foraging maximally in the low-risk periods. As a consequence, the difference in the number of snails foraging between high- and low-risk periods decreased with increasing time subject to high risk. These results indicate that the commonly used protocol of exposing foragers to a single pulse of heightened risk might tend to overestimate their typical investment in anti-predator behaviour.

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