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Abstract

Although a variety of behaviors expose animals to some risk of predation, there is no accepted way to compare their relative risk. For animals that retreat to refugia when alarmed by predators, the proportion of time devoted to each out-of-refuge behavior multiplied by the total time required to return to a refuge can be used to compare a behavior's relative predation risk. Total time to return to a refuge is a function of both response time - the time required to respond to an increased risk of predation — and travel time — the time required to flee to a refuge once alarmed. Quantifying these components can illustrate how animals minimize exposure to predators. Golden marmots (Marmota caudata aurea) were a refuging prey species used to examine the utility of this measure and to understand how marmots minimized their risk of exposure to predation. Golden marmots devoted different amounts of time to looking, foraging, self-grooming, and playing. To estimate the behavior-specific time required to return to refugia, the location of different activities was noted and a behavior-specific travel time was calculated. Alarm calls were played back to marmots engaged in different behaviors to determine, in a standardized manner, if there were behavior-specific response times. Marmots appeared to minimize their predation risk by performing most behaviors close to refugia. Results suggest that foraging was the riskiest behavior, largely because marmots foraged far from refugia and spent about 30% of their time foraging. While sample sizes were small, results also suggested that play, a rare adult behavior, exposed animals to predation because of a relatively long response time.