Hunger mediates apex predator's risk avoidance response in wildland–urban interface


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Abstract

Conflicts between large mammalian predators and humans present a challenge to conservation efforts, as these events drive human attitudes and policies concerning predator species. Unfortunately, generalities portrayed in many empirical carnivore landscape selection studies do not provide an explanation for a predator's occasional use of residential development preceding a carnivore–human conflict event. In some cases, predators may perceive residential development as a risk–reward trade-off.We examine whether state-dependent mortality risk-sensitive foraging can explain an apex carnivore's (Puma concolor) occasional utilization of residential areas. We assess whether puma balance the risk and rewards in a system characterized by a gradient of housing densities ranging from wildland to suburban. Puma GPS location data, characterized as hunting and feeding locations, were used to assess landscape variables governing hunting success and hunting site selection. Hunting site selection behaviour was then analysed conditional on indicators of hunger state.Residential development provided a high energetic reward to puma based on increases in prey availability and hunting success rates associated with increased housing density. Despite a higher energetic reward, hunting site selection analysis indicated that pumas generally avoided residential development, a landscape type attributed with higher puma mortality risk. However, when a puma experienced periods of extended hunger, risk avoidance behaviour towards housing waned.This study demonstrates that an apex carnivore faces a trade-off between acquiring energetic rewards and avoiding risks associated with human housing. Periods of hunger can help explain an apex predator's occasional use of developed landscapes and thus the rare conflicts in the wildland–urban interface. Apex carnivore movement behaviours in relation to human conflicts are best understood as a three-player community-level interaction incorporating wild prey distribution.

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