Seminar #4: Everything lives in a landscape of fear

Predators, Primates and Humans in a Landscape of Fear – 09/12/1

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Prof. Russell Hill [Source: Durham University]

Presented by Professor Russell Hill, Professor in the Department of Anthropology, Durham University

The Seminar:

Dr Russell Hill presented a seminar on how fear affects animal behaviour.

Dr Hill conducted his research at the Primate and Predator Project, an anthropology field station in Lajuma, Soutpansberg Mountains, South Africa.

The project focusses on the behavioural ecology of predator-prey interactions focussing on diurnal primates and their predators as a model system.

The project simultaneously assesses the role of mountainous regions in biodiversity consideration.

Their studies found that predation was the only reason for group living primates, but while predation rate is easy to measure, risk needs to be measured more.

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The lethal effects of predation on animal behaviour vs the non-lethal effects [Source: Luke Fears]
Lethal vs Non-Lethal effects of predation (infant mortality of prey eaten increases with predator pop vs birth rates of prey decline out of fear of predators) difficult to quantify.

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The effect of wolf introduction on elk behaviour and population structures [Source: Luke Fears]
Spatial variation in predator risk is one of the most important drivers of non-lethal effects.

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Definition and importance of a Landscape of Fear [Source: Luke Fears]
One example is that of the Vervet Monkey (Chlorocebus pygerythrus):

  • Vervet alarms are easy to detect and predator specific
  • Professor Hill used these alarms to detect Vervet presence and predator response
  • When comparing frequency of calls with location of vervets, fear of leopards was found to be prioritized over resource availability of the habitat

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Effect of fear of predation on Vervet Monkey habitat choice [Source: Luke Fears]
Another example is that of Samango Monkeys (Cercopithecus albogularis):

  • Samangos produce acoustically distinct low frequency alarm calls
  • High frequency calls are only produced for when eagles are detected
  • Prof. Hill compared call rates to location of samangos
  • Found that fear of eagles prioritised over resource availability

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Effect of fear of predation on Samango Monkey habitat choice [Source: Luke Fears]
The presence of humans also has some influence upon the landscape of fear:

  • Prof. Hill left food at top of trees and bottom of trees, in areas where humans were present, and humans not present
  • When humans were not present, only the food at the top of trees was consumed
  • When humans were present, the food at the bottom of trees was consumed
  • This confirms that the presence of a larger, non-predatory organisms can reduce the fear of predation for organisms, and thus alter the landscape of fear.

My Opinions:

I found the lecture to be very interesting, and confirmed my beliefs of animals prioritising predation risk over resource availability.

I was however surprised at the notion that the presence of humans would have an effect of reducing the landscape of fear.

How this affects my career choices:

This seminar had no drastic effect on my career choices, although I would not be adverse to have a career involving studies of this nature in a marine context.

The interesting methodology of data collection has further intrigued me into pursuing a career in research however.

Prof. Russell Hill’s Page

Primate and Predator Project Facebook Page

Primate and Predator Project Blog

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