Foraging responses of wild house mice to accumulations of conspecific odor as a predation risk

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Many predators hunt using the social and waste odors of their prey. It is unknown, however, whether potential prey modify their behavior in response to the risks of predation associated with accumulations of conspecific odor. We examined this question by measuring foraging trade-offs of wild house mice (Mus domesticus) in the field where we increased both predation risk and conspecific odor at artificial food patches in a two-factor design. Mouse giving-up densities (GUDs) were significantly higher in open habitats than in closed habitats but did not differ with the addition of mouse odors. Fine-scale behavioral observations of captive mice confirmed their attraction to the conspecific odor in an enclosure experiment, without any change to the GUD. These results indicate that house mice continue to visit and forage at food patches despite accumulations of predator-attracting odors. This most likely occurs for the social benefits obtained from conspecific odor exploration; however, such behavior may cause mice to become vulnerable to considerable olfactory exploitation by their predators. Future work must therefore focus on how mice trade off the social benefits of investigating odors that also attract their enemies.

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