Does tiger shark predation risk influence foraging habitat use by bottlenose dolphins at multiple spatial scales?

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Abstract

Prey availability and predation risk are important determinants of habitat use, but their importance may vary across spatial scales. In many marine systems, predator and prey distributions covary at large spatial scales, but do no coincide at small spatial scales. We investigated the influences of prey abundance and tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) predation risk on Indian Ocean bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops aduncus) habitat use across multiple spatial scales, in Shark Bay, Western Australia. Dolphins were distributed between deep and shallow habitats and across microhabitats within patches approximately proportional to prey density when shark abundance was low. When shark abundance was high, foraging dolphins greatly reduced their use of dangerous, but productive, shallow patches relative to safer deep ones. Also, dolphins reduced their use of interior portions of shallow patches relative to their edges, which have higher predator density but lower intrinsic risk (i.e. a higher probability of escape in an encounter situation). These results suggest that predation risk and prey availability influence dolphin habitat use at multiple spatial scales, but intrinsic habitat risk, and not just predator encounter rate, is important in shaping dolphin space use decisions. Therefore, studies of habitat use at multiple spatial scales can benefit from integrating data on prey availability and the subcomponents of predation risk.

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