Predation risk can modify the foraging behaviour of frugivorous carnivores: Implications of rewilding apex predators for plant–animal mutualisms
Apex predators play key roles in food webs and their recovery can trigger trophic cascades in some ecosystems. Intra-guild competition can reduce the abundances of smaller predators and perceived predation risk can alter their foraging behaviour thereby limiting seed dispersal by frugivorous carnivores. However, little is known about how plant–frugivore mutualisms could be disturbed in the presence of larger predators.We evaluated the top-down effect of the regional superpredator, the Iberian lynx Lynx pardinus, on the number of visits and fruits consumed by medium-sized frugivorous carnivores, as well as the foraging behaviour of identified individuals, by examining the consumption likelihood and the foraging time.We carried out a field experiment in which we placed Iberian pear Pyrus bourgaeana fruits beneath fruiting trees and monitored pear removal by frugivorous carnivores, both inside and outside lynx ranges. Using camera traps, we recorded the presence of the red fox Vulpes vulpes, the Eurasian badger Meles meles and the stone marten Martes foina, as well as the number of fruits they consumed and their time spent foraging.Red fox was the most frequent fruit consumer carnivore. We found there were fewer visits and less fruit consumed by foxes inside lynx ranges, but lynx presence did not seem to affect badgers. We did not observe any stone marten visits inside lynx territories. The foraging behaviour of red foxes was also altered inside lynx ranges whereby foxes were less efficient, consuming less fruit per unit of time and having shorter visits. Local availability of fruit resources, forest coverage and individual personality also were important variables to understand visitation and foraging in a landscape of fear.Our results show a potential trophic cascade from apex predators to primary producers. The presence of lynx can reduce frugivorous carnivore numbers and induce shifts in their feeding behaviour that may modify the seed dispersal patterns with likely consequences for the demography of many fleshy-fruited plant species. We conclude that knowledge of the ecological interactions making up trophic webs is an asset to design effective conservation strategies, particularly in rewilding programs.
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