• acoustic predator discrimination;
  • antipredator behavior;
  • Mule deer


Many animals assess their risk of predation by listening to and evaluating predators' vocalizations. We reviewed the literature to draw generalizations about predator discrimination abilities, the retention of these abilities over evolutionary time, and the potential underlying proximate mechanisms responsible for discrimination. Broadly, we found that some prey possess an ability to respond to a predator after having been evolutionarily isolated from a specific predator (i.e., predators are allopatric) and that some prey are predisposed to respond to certain types of predators that they coevolved with but without having ecological experience. However, these types of studies are lacking, and relatively, few studies have examined predator discrimination abilities in ungulates. To begin addressing these knowledge gaps, we performed field experiments on Mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) in which we investigated the ability of deer to discriminate among familiar predators [coyotes (Canis latrans) and mountain lions (Puma concolor)] and an evolutionary relevant predator with which deer have had no recent exposure [locally extinct wolves (Canis lupus)]. We found that Mule deer respond to and discriminate among predators based on predator vocalizations and have retained an ability to respond to wolves that have been extinct from the study area since the early 20th century. Previous playback studies have shown that responses vary among human-habituated and non-habituated populations and differ according to human proximity. Deer greater than 0.5 km from human residences allocated more time to heightened responses both before and after stimulus playback. Our findings may help predict how prey–predator interactions may change as a result of the recovering wolf population with a basis in ecological and evolutionary experience in predator discrimination and desensitization.