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Abstract

Chemical signals left by predators are a potential source of information about the risk of predation, and small mammals are known to take them into account when making decisions. We investigated whether wood mice (Apodemus sylvaticus) are more likely to avoid the faeces of resident predators (red fox Vulpes vulpes and common genet Genetta genetta) vs. a novel predator (European pine marten Martes martes). Odour recognition would increase perceived predation risk and reduce food intake by individual mice. Wood mice response to predators was analysed by live-trapping using two untreated controls (baited/non-baited) and traps experimentally manipulated with three predator treatments (faeces of red fox, common genet or pine marten). Traps were baited with 4 g of toasted corn, and food intake by wood mice was determined as the amount of bait remaining in each trap. We found that traps treated with faeces of resident predators were the most avoided, and the number of captures in traps treated with pine marten faeces was similar to the control-baited traps. The variation found in food intake was explained by the interaction between the types of treatment and breeding condition. Food intake was similar in control-baited traps and in traps with faeces of pine marten, but when predation risk by resident predators (red fox and common genet) was simulated, breeders reduced food intake significantly as compared to non-breeders. These results indicate that predator recognition and feeding behaviour under predation risk depend on individual factors and the balance of costs-benefits in each particular predation risk situation at a given place and time.