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Prey refuges as predator hotspots: ocelot (Leopardus pardalis) attraction to agouti (Dasyprocta punctata) dens

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Abstract

We tested the hypothesis that prey refuges attract predators, leading to elevated predator activity in the vicinity of refuges. We used camera traps to determine whether the spatial activity of a predator, the ocelot (Leopardus pardalis), was biased toward refuge locations of its principal prey, the agouti (Dasyprocta punctata). We radio-tracked agoutis at night to locate active refuges and compared the activity of ocelots between these refuges and surrounding control grid locations. We found that ocelots visited the area near agouti refuges significantly more often and for longer periods of time than control locations, and that they actively investigated the refuge entrances. Both occupied and unoccupied refuges were visited, but the duration of inspection was longer at occupied refuges. As the ocelots could probably not see the agoutis within the refuges, olfaction likely cued foraging ocelots. Two refuges were repeatedly visited by the same ocelots on different days, suggesting spatial memory. Overall, our results suggest that predators can be attracted to prey refuges or refuging prey. The benefits to prey of staying nearby a refuge would thus be counterbalanced by higher likelihoods of predator encounter. This should stimulate prey to use multiple refuges alternatingly and to not enter or exit refuges at times of high predator activity.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Sumana Serchan and Matt McElroy for field assistance, and two anonymous reviewers for their comments on the manuscript. We thank the National Science Foundation (NSF-DEB-0717071 to RK) and the Netherlands Foundation for Scientific Research (NWO-WOTRO W85-239 and NWO-ALW 863-07-008 to PAJ) for financial support.

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Correspondence to Willem-Jan Emsens.

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Emsens, W., Hirsch, B.T., Kays, R. et al. Prey refuges as predator hotspots: ocelot (Leopardus pardalis) attraction to agouti (Dasyprocta punctata) dens. Acta Theriol 59, 257–262 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13364-013-0159-4

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Keywords

  • Agouti
  • Behavior
  • Movement
  • Ocelot
  • Predation
  • Refuge