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PLoS One. 2011 Mar 2;6(3):e17050. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0017050.

Human activity helps prey win the predator-prey space race.

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Faculty of Environmental Design, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada.


Predator-prey interactions, including between large mammalian wildlife species, can be represented as a "space race", where prey try to minimize and predators maximize spatial overlap. Human activity can also influence the distribution of wildlife species. In particular, high-human disturbance can displace large carnivore predators, a trait-mediated direct effect. Predator displacement by humans could then indirectly benefit prey species by reducing predation risk, a trait-mediated indirect effect of humans that spatially decouples predators from prey. The purpose of this research was to test the hypothesis that high-human activity was displacing predators and thus indirectly creating spatial refuge for prey species, helping prey win the "space race". We measured the occurrence of eleven large mammal species (including humans and cattle) at 43 camera traps deployed on roads and trails in southwest Alberta, Canada. We tested species co-occurrence at camera sites using hierarchical cluster and nonmetric multidimensional scaling (NMS) analyses; and tested whether human activity, food and/or habitat influenced predator and prey species counts at camera sites using regression tree analysis. Cluster and NMS analysis indicated that at camera sites humans co-occurred with prey species more than predator species and predator species had relatively low co-occurrence with prey species. Regression tree analysis indicated that prey species were three times more abundant on roads and trails with >32 humans/day. However, predators were less abundant on roads and trails that exceeded 18 humans/day. Our results support the hypothesis that high-human activity displaced predators but not prey species, creating spatial refuge from predation. High-human activity on roads and trails (i.e., >18 humans/day) has the potential to interfere with predator-prey interactions via trait-mediated direct and indirect effects. We urge scientist and managers to carefully consider and quantify the trait-mediated indirect effects of humans, in addition to direct effects, when assessing human impacts on wildlife and ecosystems.

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