Predator arrival elicits differential dispersal, change in age structure and reproductive performance in a prey population

Payo-Payo, AnaSanz-Aguilar, Ana Genovart, MeritxellBertolero, AlbertPiccardo, JuliaCamps, D.Ruiz-Olmo, J.Oro, Daniel.  Scientific Reports 8 : 1971 (2018)  DIGITAL CSIC

Predators are an important ecological and evolutionary force shaping prey population dynamics. Ecologists have extensively assessed the lethal effects of invasive predators on prey populations. However, the role of non-lethal effects, such as physiological stress or behavioural responses like dispersal, has been comparatively overlooked and their potential population effects remain obscure. Over the last 23 years, we developed a mark-recapture program for the Audouin’s gull and an intensive carnivore monitoring program to assess how the appearance and invasion of the study site by carnivores affects population dynamics. We evaluate changes in turnover of discrete breeding patches within the colony, age structure and breeding performance. Once carnivores entered the colony, the number of occupied patches increased, indicating a higher patch turnover. Breeders responded by moving to areas less accessible to carnivores. More importantly, the presence of carnivores caused differential (and density-independent) breeding dispersal: experienced, better-performing breeders were more likely to leave the colony than younger breeders. This differential dispersal modified the age structure and reduced the reproductive performance of the population. Our results confirm the importance experience in the study of populations. The role of differential dispersal for animal population dynamics might be more important than previously thought, especially under scenarios of global change.