Predator-induced fear causes PTSD-like changes in the brains and behaviour of wild animals

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Scientific Reports





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© 2019, The Author(s). Predator-induced fear is both, one of the most common stressors employed in animal model studies of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and a major focus of research in ecology. There has been a growing discourse between these disciplines but no direct empirical linkage. We endeavoured to provide this empirical linkage by conducting experiments drawing upon the strengths of both disciplines. Exposure to a natural cue of predator danger (predator vocalizations), had enduring effects of at least 7 days duration involving both, a heightened sensitivity to predator danger (indicative of an enduring memory of fear), and elevated neuronal activation in both the amygdala and hippocampus – in wild birds (black-capped chickadees, Poecile atricapillus), exposed to natural environmental and social experiences in the 7 days following predator exposure. Our results demonstrate enduring effects on the brain and behaviour, meeting the criteria to be considered an animal model of PTSD – in a wild animal, which are of a nature and degree which can be anticipated could affect fecundity and survival in free-living wildlife. We suggest our findings support both the proposition that PTSD is not unnatural, and that long-lasting effects of predator-induced fear, with likely effects on fecundity and survival, are the norm in nature.

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