Vigilance Response of a Key Prey Species to Anthropogenic and Natural Threats in Detroit

Nyeema Harris and 3 other contributors

On This Page

    Related YSE Profiles


    Rapid urbanization coupled with increased human activity induces pressures that affect predator-prey relations through a suite of behavioral mechanisms, including alteration of avoidance and coexistence dynamics. Synergisms of natural and anthropogenic threats existing within urban environments exacerbate the necessity for species to differentially modify behavior to each risk. Here, we explore the behavioral response of a key prey species, cottontail rabbits (Sylvilagus floridanus), to pressures from humans, domestic dogs, and a natural predator, coyotes (Canis latrans) in a human-dominated landscape. We conducted the first camera survey in urban parks throughout Detroit, Michigan in 2017-2020 to assess vigilance response corresponding to a heterogeneous landscape created from variation in the occupancy of threats. We predicted a scaled response where cottontail rabbits would be most vigilant in areas with high coyote activity, moderately vigilant in areas with high domestic dog activity, and the least vigilant in areas of high human activity. From 8,165 independent cottontail rabbit detections in Detroit across 11,616 trap nights, one-third were classified as vigilant. We found vigilance behavior increased with coyote occupancy and in locations with significantly high domestic dog activity, but found no significant impact of human occupancy or their spatial hotspots. We also found little spatial overlap between rabbits and threats, suggesting rabbits invest more in spatial avoidance; thus, less effort is required for vigilance. Our results elucidate strategies of a prey species coping with various risks to advance our understanding of the adaptability of wildlife in urban environments. In order to promote coexistence between people and wildlife in urban greenspaces, we must understand and anticipate the ecological implications of human-induced behavioral modifications.