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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2016

Phantoms of the forest: legacy risk effects of a regionally extinct large carnivore

Sahlén, Ellinor; Noell, Sonja; DePerno, Christopher S.; Kindberg, Jonas; Spong, Göran; Cromsigt, Joris


The increased abundance of large carnivores in Europe is a conservation success, but the impact on the behavior and population dynamics of prey species is generally unknown. In Europe, the recolonization of large carnivores often occurs in areas where humans have greatly modified the landscape through forestry or agriculture. Currently, we poorly understand the effects of recolonizing large carnivores on extant prey species in anthropogenic landscapes. Here, we investigated if ungulate prey species showed innate responses to the scent of a regionally exterminated but native large carnivore, and whether the responses were affected by human-induced habitat openness. We experimentally introduced brown bear Ursus arctos scent to artificial feeding sites and used camera traps to document the responses of three sympatric ungulate species. In addition to controls without scent, reindeer scent Rangifer tarandus was used as a noncarnivore, novel control scent. Fallow deer Dama dama strongly avoided areas with bear scent. In the presence of bear scent, all ungulate species generally used open sites more than closed sites, whereas the opposite was observed at sites with reindeer scent or without scent. The opening of forest habitat by human practices, such as forestry and agriculture, creates a larger gradient in habitat openness than available in relatively unaffected closed forest systems, which may create opportunities for prey to alter their habitat selection and reduce predation risk in human-modified systems that do not exist in more natural forest systems. Increased knowledge about antipredator responses in areas subjected to anthropogenic change is important because these responses may affect prey population dynamics, lower trophic levels, and attitudes toward large carnivores. These aspects may be of particular relevance in the light of the increasing wildlife populations across much of Europe.


Anthropogenic change; antipredator response; brown bear; landscape of fear; predator-prey interactions; prey naivety; ungulates

Published in

Ecology and Evolution
2016, volume: 6, number: 3, pages: 791-799

Authors' information

Sahlén, Ellinor
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Wildlife, Fish and Environmental Studies
Sahlén, Ellinor
North Carolina State University (NC State)
Noell, Sonja
University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna (BOKU)
DePerno, Christopher S.
North Carolina State University (NC State)
Swedish Association for Hunting and Wildlife Management
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Wildlife, Fish and Environmental Studies
North Carolina State University (NC State)
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Wildlife, Fish and Environmental Studies
Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University

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