Strong reactive movement response of the medium-sized European hare to elevated predation risk in short vegetation

Martijn J.A. Weterings*, Marco Zaccaroni, Nikki van der Koore, Linda M. Zijlstra, Henry J. Kuipers, Frank van Langevelde, Sipke E. van Wieren

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)


Reactive movement responses of prey are affected by habitat characteristics, such as cover, which determine predation risk. Open habitats with low cover facilitate predator detection, movement and escape, while closed habitats reduce the ability to detect predators and hinder movement. We performed a field experiment using nonlethal predators to study the reactive movement responses of medium-sized prey in patches with different vegetation characteristics related to elevated predation risk. Ten GPS-collared, free-ranging European hares, Lepus europaeus, were repeatedly subjected to a leashed dog and two humans in an experimental cross-over design. Linear mixed models were used to assess the effect of the treatment and its interaction with vegetation parameters on the movement behaviour of the European hare. The reactive movement response was best explained by the model that included the interaction between elevated predation risk and vegetation structure. A strong immediate response was found in short vegetation up to 1 h after the treatment ended. The effect extended beyond the duration of the treatment and was synchronized with the resting and foraging period over the next 24 h. The distance covered between resting and foraging grounds was negatively affected, while use of less risky, low-quality vegetation during resting and foraging was favoured. Medium-sized prey species exhibit strong behavioural responses to the perceived predation risk, which we demonstrate here for the European hare. An elevated predation risk, for example by dogs, can trigger costly behavioural responses in these medium-sized prey species.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)107-114
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Habitat characteristics
  • Lepus europaeus
  • Nonlethal predator
  • Risk effect
  • Stretch length
  • Vegetation structure


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