Habitat-specific capture timing of deer mice (Peromyscus maniculatus) suggests that predators structure temporal activity of prey

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Timing is an essential component of the choices that animals make: The likelihood of successful resource capture (and predator avoidance) depends not just on what an animal chooses to do, but when it chooses to do it. Despite the importance of activity timing, our ability to understand the forces that constrain activity timing has been limited because this aspect of animal behavior is shaped by several factors (e.g., interspecific competitors, predators, physical conditions), and it is difficult to examine activity timing in a setting where only a single factor is operating. Using an island system that makes it possible to focus on the effect of predation risk in the absence of interspecific competition, we examine how the onset of activity of the deer mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus) varies between habitats with unique predation risks (i.e., minimal-shrub cover versus abundant-shrub cover sites). Using capture time to assess the timing of mouse activity, we found that mice in habitats with minimal shrub cover were captured 1.7 hr earlier than mice in habitats with abundant shrub cover. This difference in timing between habitats was likely a direct response to differences in predation risk between the two habitats: There were no differences in thermal conditions between the two habitats, and the difference in activity timing disappeared during a night when overcast skies reduced island-wide predation risk. Our results demonstrate that predation risk, independent of interspecific competition, can generate significant changes in animal activity timing. Our work suggests that habitat structure that provides safety (i.e., refuge habitats) plays a direct role in the timing of prey activity and that habitat modification that alters refuge availability (e.g., shrub dominance) may alter the timing of animal activity.

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