Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
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Large carnivores’ fear of the human ‘super predator’ has the potential to alter their feeding behaviour and result in human-induced trophic cascades. However, it has yet to be experimentally tested if large carnivores perceive humans as predators and react strongly enough to have cascading effects on their prey. We conducted a predator playback experiment exposing pumas to predator (human) and non-predator control (frog) sounds at puma feeding sites to measure immediate fear responses to humans and the subsequent impacts on feeding. We found that pumas fled more frequently, took longer to return, and reduced their overall feeding time by more than half in response to hearing the human ‘super predator’. Combined with our previous work showing higher kill rates of deer in more urbanized landscapes, this study reveals that fear is the mechanism driving an ecological cascade from humans to increased puma predation on deer. By demonstrating that the fear of humans can cause a strong reduction in feeding by pumas, our results support that non-consumptive forms of human disturbance may alter the ecological role of large carnivores.
Citation of this paper:
Smith JA, Suraci JP, Clinchy M, Crawford A, Roberts D, Zanette LY, Wilmers CC. 2017 Fear of the human ‘super predator’ reduces feeding time in large carnivores. Proc. R. Soc. B 284: 20170433. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2017.0433