Springer Nature

Bigger doesn’t mean bolder: behavioral variation of four wild rodent species to novelty and predation risk following a fast-slow continuum

Posted on 2020-09-22 - 03:40
Abstract Background Understanding how wild species respond to novel situations with associated risk can provide valuable insights for inter-specific behavioral variation and associations with pace-of-life (POL). Rodents, a globally distributed and diverse taxonomic group, have been the subjects of countless studies emulating risky situations. Controlled laboratory experiments with a focus on wild-caught species provide the opportunity to test fine-scale behavioral responses to contexts of risk with ecological implications. For example, assessing the importance of predator cues eliciting antipredator responses, as well as whether wild rodents embody behavioral plasticity and repertoires, illustrated by habituation and variation in behavioral traits, respectively. Results In this comparative study, we examined multiple behavioral responses of four rodent species in eastern Taiwan (three native species Mus caroli, Apodemus agrarius, Rattus losea, and one invasive, Rattus exulans) exposed to an unfamiliar microenvironment and novel cue from an allopatric predator, the leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis). All wild-caught animals were subjected to two consecutive nights of experimental trials in a laboratory setting. Behavioral responses to a novel situation during the first trial differed between species; smaller species investing more time in non-defensive behaviors compared to the larger species. More specifically, the smaller species M. caroli and A. agrarius allocated more time to exploration and foraging, whereas the larger rat species R. exulans and R. losea spent more time motionless or concealing. During the second trial, the addition of leopard cat cues did not elicit antipredator behaviors, but rather, rodents were found to exhibit increased non-defensive behaviors, specifically foraging efforts. Conclusions Our results suggest that these four species do largely follow a behavioral fast-slow continuum with the two smaller mice species demonstrating increased boldness in a novel context compared to the larger rat species. Also, the wild populations of rodents in eastern Taiwan may be naïve to leopard cats. Finally, the rodents in our study demonstrated habituation to the microenvironment, indicating they possess adaptive capacity.


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