Evol Ecol Res 18: 555-569 (2017)     Full PDF if your library subscribes.

Predators detect the welfare of their potential prey and cull those that are poorly

A.S. Severtsov1, M.L. Rosenzweig2* and A.V. Shubkina3

1Biological Faculty, Moscow State University, Moscow, Russia, 2Evolutionary Ecology Ltd, Tucson, Arizona, USA and 3Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, Russia

Correspondence: A.V. Shubkina, Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution, Russian Academy of Sciences, Leninskii pr. 33, Moscow 117071, Russia.
e-mail: annashubkina@rambler.ru


Aim: Test the hypothesis that predators influence the fitness of their prey by taking prey individuals disproportionately in poorer condition.

Questions: How do wild, herbivorous animals taken by predators in nature differ from those that survive?

Organisms: Wild prey – Saiga tatarica (an antelope) and Lepus europaeus (brown hare). The predator – trained hunting dogs (sighthounds).

Methods: We compared the prey taken by sighthounds in the field to those shot by human hunters. We conducted pathological, anatomical, and microbiological studies and compared the results for prey taken by sighthounds with prey taken by human hunters. We used GPS technology to track, second by second, the speed and direction of hounds that were hunting. To determine the concentration of microorganisms on their skin, we studied animals killed by human hunters as well as by hounds. Finally, we studied the reaction of the hounds to olfactory stimuli of bacterial origin.

Results: The hunting success of the hounds is well below 50%. The predator must try repeatedly to capture its prey. Animals taken by hounds do not differ by sex, age, size or any movement parameter compared with those shot by humans. But the individuals taken by hounds, unlike those shot by humans, include only antelope with abnormal internal organs and hare with low kidney fat and a relatively high concentration of skin microorganisms. The reduced prospects of prey individuals are signalled by odour, formed at least partly by microflora. The hounds sense this odour and respond to it positively.

Conclusions: The moderately low hunting success of predators results in the highly efficient elimination of prey specimens in poor condition. If condition correlates with fitness, then the predator culls specimens with reduced fitness, and that can stabilize the fitness of the prey.

Keywords: adipose capsule, antelope, bacterial odour, brown hare, hunting dogs, predator discrimination, predator efficiency, prey fitness, sighthounds, subcutaneous scars.

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