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Life cycle period and activity of prey influence their susceptibility to predators

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In a multi-prey system, predators kill different kinds of prey according to their availability, where “availability” is a function of prey abundance and vulnerability (e.g. anti-predator behavior). We hypothesized that prey availability changes seasonally, for instance because reproduction leads to a higher abundance of young in spring and summer or because changes in behavior such as during the mating season makes the prey periodically more vulnerable. We tested this hypothesis in a simple predator-prey system in the Jura Mountains of Switzerland and France, where a single large mammalian predator, the Eurasian lynx, preys upon two ungulate species, the roe deer and the chamois. In 1996 and 1997 we were able to assign a total of 190 roe deer and 54 chamois killed by lynx to a specific age and sex class (males, females or juveniles). As expected, the proportion of juveniles killed varied considerably among periods, being at the highest from 1st of June to 15th of August. No significant seasonal differences were detected regarding the frequency of predation on males versus females. In particular, the interaction between species and period, expected because of different timing of the rutting period between roe deer and chamois, was not significant. Females were killed only slightly more often during gestation. The relationship between prey abundance and vulnerability is highly complex, as the lynx’ prey selection needs to be analyzed not only horizontally (changes of a specific prey category with season) but also vertically (an increase in the vulnerability of one category releases predation pressure on others). Second, we predicted that certain activities, such as feeding, expose prey to predation more than others. We found more chamois predated when feeding, whereas roe deer were predated mainly when ruminating. This interspecific discrepancy reflects differences either in the anti-predator behavior of roe deer and chamois or in the relative time allocation to feeding and ruminating between the two species.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: June 1, 2004

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