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Fear‐based niche shifts in neotropical birds

Martínez, Ari E., Parra, Eliseo, Muellerklein, Oliver, Vredenburg, Vance T.
Ecology 2018 v.99 no.6 pp. 1338-1346
antipredatory behavior, avoidance behavior, biodiversity, ecosystems, falcons, flight, flocks, forage, habitats, hawks, home range, indicator species, landscapes, natural selection, neotropical birds, predation, predators, prey species, rain forests, risk, space and time, vegetation cover
Predation is a strong ecological force that shapes animal communities through natural selection. Recent studies have shown the cascading effects of predation risk on ecosystems through changes in prey behavior. Minimizing predation risk may explain why multiple prey species associate together in space and time. For example, mixed‐species flocks that have been widely documented from forest systems, often include birds that eavesdrop on sentinel species (alarm calling heterospecifics). Sentinel species may be pivotal in (1) allowing flocking species to forage in open areas within forests that otherwise incur high predation risk, and (2) influencing flock occurrence (the amount of time species spend with a flock). To test this, we conducted a short‐term removal experiment in an Amazonian lowland rainforest to test whether flock habitat use and flock occurrence was influenced by sentinel presence. Antshrikes (genus Thamnomanes) act as sentinels in Amazonian mixed‐species flocks by providing alarm calls widely used by other flock members. The alarm calls provide threat information about ambush predators such as hawks and falcons which attack in flight. We quantified home range behavior, the forest vegetation profile used by flocks, and the proportion occurrence of other flocking species, both before and after removal of antshrikes from flocks. We found that when sentinel species were removed, (1) flock members shifted habitat use to lower risk habitats with greater vegetation cover, and (2) species flock occurrence decreased. We conclude that eavesdropping on sentinel species may allow other species to expand their realized niche by allowing them to safely forage in high‐risk habitats within the forest. In allowing species to use extended parts of the forest, sentinel species may influence overall biodiversity across a diverse landscape.