Stay home, stay safe-Site familiarity reduces predation risk in a large herbivore in two contrasting study sites

J Anim Ecol. 2020 Jun;89(6):1329-1339. doi: 10.1111/1365-2656.13202. Epub 2020 Apr 4.


Restricting movements to familiar areas should increase individual fitness as it provides animals with information about the spatial distribution of resources and predation risk. While the benefits of familiarity for locating resources have been reported previously, the potential value of familiarity for predation avoidance has been accorded less attention. It has been suggested that familiarity should be beneficial for anti-predator behaviour when direct cues of predation risk are unclear and do not allow prey to identify well-defined spatial refuges. However, to our knowledge, this hypothesis has yet to be tested. Here, we assessed how site familiarity, measured as the intensity of use of a given location, is associated with the probability of roe deer Capreolus capreolus being killed by two predators with contrasting hunting tactics, the Eurasian lynx Lynx lynx and human hunters. While risk of human hunting was confined to open habitats, risk of lynx predation was more diffuse, with no clear refuge areas. We estimated cause-specific mortality rates in a competing risk framework for 212 GPS-collared roe deer in two ecologically distinct areas of Central Europe to test the hypothesis that the daily risk of being killed by lynx or hunters should be lower in areas of high familiarity. We found strong evidence that site familiarity reduces the risk of being predated by lynx, whereas the evidence that the risk of being hunted is linked to site familiarity was weak. We suggest that local knowledge about small-scale differences in predation risk and information about efficient escape routes affect an individual's ability to avoid or escape an attack by an ambush predator. Our study emphasizes the role of site familiarity in determining the susceptibility of prey to predation. Further research will be required to understand better how a cognitive map of individual spatial information is beneficial for avoiding predation in the arms race that drives the predator-prey shell game.

Keywords: home range; hunting; lynx; movement; prey; roe deer; site fidelity; survival analysis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Deer*
  • Ecosystem
  • Europe
  • Herbivory
  • Lynx*
  • Predatory Behavior

Associated data

  • Dryad/10.5061/dryad.qz612jmb0