Behavioral response of naïve and non-naïve deer to wolf urine

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Abstract

Large carnivores are recolonizing many regions in Europe, where their ungulate prey have lived without them for >150 years. Whether the returning large carnivores will modify ungulate behavior and indirectly affect lower trophic levels, depends on the ability of ungulates to recognize risk based on past encounters and cues indicating carnivore presence. In two case studies, we tested, by means of camera trapping, the behavioral response of deer to wolf urine. The first case study was in the Netherlands where deer (still) live in absence of wolves, and the second in Poland with long-term wolf presence. As controls we used water (no scent) and all-purpose soap (unfamiliar scent). Deer vigilance level on control plots was 20% in both case studies indicating that wolf occupancy per se does not lead to a consistent difference in behavior. Placing wolf urine did not significantly affect deer behavior in either the wolf-absent or the wolf-present area. More intense cues, or a combination of cues, are likely needed to affect deer behavior. Moreover, we found an unexpected reaction of deer towards all-purpose soap of reduced foraging (and tendency for increased vigilance) in the wolf-present area, whereas it did not affect deer behavior in the wolf-absent area. We hypothesize that deer associate all-purpose soap with human presence, causing no response in human-dominated landscapes (the Netherlands), but triggering a behavioral reaction in more remote areas (Poland). This illustrates attention should be paid to controls used in scent experiments as they may be associated differently than intended.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0223248
JournalPLoS ONE
Volume14
Issue number11
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 27-Nov-2019

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