Catch Me If You Can: Diel Activity Patterns of Mammalian Prey and Predators

Authors

  • Pedro Monterroso,

    Corresponding author
    1. Instituto de Investigación en Recursos Cinegéticos (IREC, CSIC-UCLM-JCCM), Ciudad Real, Spain
    2. CIBIO/InBio, Centro de Investigação em Biodiversidade e Recursos Genéticos, Universidade do Porto, Vairão, Portugal
    3. Departamento de Biologia, Faculdade de Ciências, Universidade do Porto, Porto, Portugal
    • Correspondence

      Pedro Monterroso, Instituto de Investigación en Recursos Cinegéticos (IREC, CSIC-UCLM-JCCM), Ronda de Toledo, s/n, 13005, Ciudad Real, Spain.

      E-mail: pmonterroso@cibio.up.pt

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  • Paulo Célio Alves,

    1. CIBIO/InBio, Centro de Investigação em Biodiversidade e Recursos Genéticos, Universidade do Porto, Vairão, Portugal
    2. Departamento de Biologia, Faculdade de Ciências, Universidade do Porto, Porto, Portugal
    3. College of Forestry and Conservation, Wildlife Biology Program, University of Montana, Missoula, MT, USA
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  • Pablo Ferreras

    1. Instituto de Investigación en Recursos Cinegéticos (IREC, CSIC-UCLM-JCCM), Ciudad Real, Spain
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  • We adhere to the ‘Guidelines for the use of animals in research’ as published in Animal Behaviour (1991, 41, 183–186) and the laws of the countries where the research was conducted.
  • The manuscript contains only material that is either original and has not been published or submitted elsewhere, or stems from publications identified by a reference.
  • All authors have seen the final manuscript and take responsibility for its contents.

Abstract

The activity patterns exhibited by animals are shaped by evolution, but additionally fine-tuned by flexible responses to the environment. Predation risk and resource availability are environmental cues which influence the behavioural decisions that make both predators and prey engage in activity bursts, and depending on their local importance, can be strong enough to override the endogenous regulation of an animals’ circadian clock. In Southern Europe, wherever the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) is abundant, it is the main prey of most mammalian mesopredators, and rodents are generally the alternative prey. We evaluated the bidirectional relation between the diel activity strategies of these mammalian mesopredators and prey coexisting in south-western Europe. Results revealed that even though predation risk enforced by mammalian mesocarnivores during night-time was approximately twice and five times higher than during twilight and daytime, respectively, murids consistently displayed unimodal nocturnal behaviour. Conversely, the European rabbits exhibited a bimodal pattern that peaked around sunrise and sunset. Despite the existence of some overlap between the diel rhythms of mesocarnivores and rabbits, their patterns were not synchronized. We suggest that the environmental stressors in our study areas are not severe enough to override the endogenous regulation of the circadian cycle in murids. European rabbits, however, are able to suppress their biological tendency for nocturnality by selecting a predominantly crepuscular pattern. In spite of the higher energetic input, mesocarnivores do not completely track rabbits’ activity pattern. They rather track rodents’ activity. We propose that these systems have probably evolved towards a situation where some degree of activity during high-risk periods benefits the overall prey population survival, while the accessibility to sufficient prey prevents predators to completely track them.

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