Predation as a landscape effect: the trading off by prey species between predation risks and protection benefits

J Anim Ecol. 2007 May;76(3):619-29. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2656.2007.01233.x.


1. Predators impose costs on their prey but may also provide benefits such as protection against other (e.g. nest) predators. The optimal breeding location in relation to the distance from a nesting raptor varies so as to minimize the sum of costs of adult and nest predation. We provide a conceptual model to account for variation in the relative predation risks and derive qualitative predictions for how different prey species should respond to the distance from goshawk Accipiter gentilis nests. 2. We test the model predictions using a comprehensive collection of data from northern Finland and central Norway. First, we carried out a series of experiments with artificial bird nests to test if goshawks may provide protection against nest predation. Second, we conducted standard bird censuses and nest-box experiments to detect how the density or territory occupancy of several prey species varies with distance from the nearest goshawk nest. 3. Nest predation rate increased with distance from goshawk nest indicating that goshawks may provide protection for birds' nests against nest predation. Abundance (or probability of presence) of the main prey species of goshawks peaked at intermediate distances from goshawk nests, reflecting the trade-off. The abundance of small songbird species decreased with distance from goshawk nests. The goshawk poses little risk to small songbirds and they may benefit from goshawk proximity in protection against nest predation. Finally, no pattern with distance in pied flycatcher territory (nest box) occupation rate or the onset of egg-laying was detected. This is expected, as flycatchers neither suffer from marked nest predation risk nor are favoured goshawk prey. 4. Our results suggest that territory location in relation to the nest of a predator is a trade-off situation where adult birds weigh the risk of themselves being predated against the benefits accrued from increased nest survival. Prey species appear able to detect and measure alternative predation risks, and respond adaptively. From the prey perspective, the landscape is a mosaic of habitat patches the quality of which varies according to structural and floristic features, but also to the spatial distribution of predators.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Birds / growth & development*
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Female
  • Male
  • Nesting Behavior / physiology
  • Oviposition / physiology
  • Population Density
  • Population Dynamics
  • Predatory Behavior / physiology*
  • Raptors / physiology*
  • Reproduction / physiology*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Songbirds / growth & development
  • Species Specificity