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J Anim Ecol. 2009 Nov;78(6):1124-33. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2656.2009.01584.x. Epub 2009 Jun 26.

Habitat and roe deer fawn vulnerability to red fox predation.

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Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, Trondheim, Norway.


1. Notwithstanding the growing amount of literature emphasizing the link between habitat, life-history traits and behaviour, few empirical studies investigated the combined effect of these parameters on individual predation risk. We investigated direct and indirect consequences of habitat composition at multiple spatial scales on predation risk by red foxes on 151 radio-monitored roe deer fawns. We hypothesized that the higher resource availability in fragmented agricultural areas increased predation risk because of: (i) shorter prey movements, which may increase predictability; (ii) larger litter size and faster growth rates, which may increase detectability in species adopting a hiding neonatal anti-predator strategy. The sharing of risky habitat among littermates was expected to promote whole-litter losses as a result of predation. 2. The landscape-scale availability of agricultural areas negatively affected pre-weaning movements, but did not influence growth rates or litter size. Predation risk was best described by the interplay between movements and fine-scale habitat fragmentation: a higher mobility increased the encounter rate and predation risk in highly fragmented home ranges, while it reduced predation risk in forest-dominated areas with clumped resources because of decreased predictability. This is one of the first demonstrations that movement patterns can be an efficient anti-predator strategy when adjusted to local conditions. 3. In accordance with previous studies documenting the existence of family effects (i.e. non-independence among siblings) in survival, littermates survived or died together more often than expected by chance. In addition, our study specifically demonstrated the occurrence of behaviourally mediated family effects in predation risk: after a fox killed one fawn the probability of a sibling being killed within a few days rose from 20% to 47%, likely because of the win-stay strategy (i.e. return to a previously rewarding site) adopted by the predator. Hence, the predator's hunting strategy has the potential to raise fawn mortality disproportionately to predator abundance. 4. There is increasing evidence that fawns inhabiting highly productive predator-free habitats are granted lifetime fitness benefits; these potential advantages, however, can be cancelled out when predation risk increases in the very same high-productivity areas, which might thus turn into attractive sinks.

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