Nebraska Cooperative Fish & Wildlife Research Unit



Date of this Version



Messinger LN, Stuber EF, Chizinski CJ, Fontaine JJ (2019) Mortality, perception, and scale: Understanding how predation shapes space use in a wild prey population. PLoS ONE 14(9): e0222272. pone.0222272


Attempts to assess behavioral responses of prey to predation risk are often confounded by depredation of prey. Moreover, the scale at which the response of prey is assessed has important implications for discovering how predation risk alters prey behavior. Herein, we assessed space use of wild Ring-necked Pheasants (Phasianus colchicus) in response to spatial and temporal variation in recreational hunting. We radio-marked pheasants and monitored space use at two spatial scales: short-term seasonal home range, and nightly resting locations. Additionally, we considered temporal variation in predation risk by monitoring space use prior to and during the pheasant hunting season. Although we found no change in nightly resting location, pheasants subjected to predation risk expanded their home range and shifted home range location even when invulnerable to predation. Home range formation was plastic, with home ranges expanding and contracting as risk fluctuated before and during the hunting season. Depredation reduced the measured response within the population, obscuring the potential importance of perceived predation risk in shaping prey communities, particularly when not measured at the appropriate scale. By assessing space use of a wild prey population at multiple scales, considering spatial and temporal variation in predation risk, we show that not only does predation risk affect space use, but that the effects at the population level may be challenging to assess when not measured at the appropriate ecological scale because of the direct effects of differential mortality on the same behaviors.