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Keywords:

  • Antipredator behavior;
  • detection bias;
  • elk;
  • GPS ;
  • nonconsumptive effects;
  • risk effects;
  • wolf

Abstract

Field studies that rely on fixes from GPS-collared predators to identify encounters with prey will often underestimate the frequency and strength of antipredator responses. These underestimation biases have several mechanistic causes. (1) Step bias: The distance between successive GPS fixes can be large, and encounters that occur during these intervals go undetected. This bias will generally be strongest for cursorial hunters that can rapidly cover large distances (e.g., wolves and African wild dogs) and when the interval between GPS fixes is long relative to the duration of a hunt. Step bias is amplified as the path travelled between successive GPS fixes deviates from a straight line. (2) Scatter bias: Only a small fraction of the predators in a population typically carry GPS collars, and prey encounters with uncollared predators go undetected unless a collared group-mate is present. This bias will generally be stronger for fission–fusion hunters (e.g., spotted hyenas, wolves, and lions) than for highly cohesive hunters (e.g., African wild dogs), particularly when their group sizes are large. Step bias and scatter bias both cause underestimation of the frequency of antipredator responses. (3) Strength bias: Observations of prey in the absence of GPS fix from a collared predator will generally include a mixture of cases in which predators were truly absent and cases in which predators were present but not detected, which causes underestimation of the strength of antipredator responses. We quantified these biases with data from wolves and African wild dogs and found that fixes from GPS collars at 3-h intervals underestimated the frequency and strength of antipredator responses by a factor >10. We reexamined the results of a recent study of the nonconsumptive effects of wolves on elk in light of these results and confirmed that predation risk has strong effects on elk dynamics by reducing the pregnancy rate.