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Predators differ in various attributes: body size, sociality, speed, preferred prey size, hunting mode, etc. Together, these characteristics contribute to the predator's overall dangerousness, which is likely to underlie variations in the nature and strength of a prey's antipredator responses. This link, although somehow intuitive, has rarely been quantified in natural ecosystems. The goal of this study was to compare the antipredator response of a prey to two predators with contrasting dangerousness in large terrestrial mammals, focusing on the less studied reactive spatial response. We assessed whether the reactive spatial response of plains zebras, Equus quagga, differed after an encounter with African lions, Panthera leo, or spotted hyaenas, Crocuta crocuta. We expected lions to be perceived as more dangerous and hence to induce a stronger reactive spatial response than hyaenas. Using data from GPS collars deployed simultaneously on the three species, we studied the reactive spatial responses of zebras after they came close to either predator. We found that zebras responded differently, and more strongly to lions than to hyaenas. Indeed, zebras were twice as likely to flee after encountering a lion than a hyaena and, immediately after an encounter with a lion, zebras moved on average faster and further than after an encounter with a hyaena. The results of this study are consistent with a correlation between predator dangerousness and the strength of the prey's antipredator response. Future studies covering other pairs of large carnivores are needed to rigorously assess the role of the different predator attributes (body size, speed, preferred prey and hunting mode).

Original publication




Journal article


Animal Behaviour

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