Habitat complexity mediates the predator–prey space race

Justine A. Smith, Emiliano Donadio, Jonathan N. Pauli, Michael J. Sheriff, Owen R. Bidder, Arthur D. Middleton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Scopus citations


The spatial relationship between predator and prey is often conceptualized as a behavioral response race, in which prey avoid predators while predators track prey. Limiting habitat types can create spatial anchors for prey or predators, influencing the likelihood that the predator or prey response will dominate. Joint spatial anchors emerge when predator and prey occupy similar feeding habitat domains and risk and reward become spatially conflated, confusing predictions of which player will win the space race. These spatial dynamics of risk-foraging trade-offs are often obscured by habitat heterogeneity and community complexity in large vertebrate systems, fueling ambiguity regarding the generality of predictions from predator–prey theory. To test how habitat distribution influences the predator–prey space race, we examine correlation in puma and vicuña habitat selection and space use at two sites, one of which generates a distinct risk–foraging trade-off at a joint spatial anchor. The distribution of vegetation, which serves as both forage for vicuñas and stalking cover for pumas, differs between the sites; the llano contains a single central meadow that acts as a joint spatial anchor, while the canyon is characterized by more heterogeneous vegetation. Puma–vicuña habitat selection correlation was positive in the llano and negative in the canyon, and similarly, utilization distributions were more strongly correlated in the llano than the canyon. Vicuña locations occurred at higher values of puma habitat selection and utilization in the llano than in the canyon. Similarly, puma locations in the llano occurred at higher values of vicuña habitat selection and utilization than in the canyon. Although pumas consistently selected for and utilized vegetative and topographic cover regardless of habitat distribution, vicuñas only selected against vegetation in the heterogeneous canyon site, reducing spatial correlation with pumas. Our work suggests a joint spatial anchor favors pumas in the space race due to the inability for vicuñas to avoid crucial foraging habitat. The outcome of the predator–prey space race appears to be strongly informed by the distribution of habitat, whereby corresponding predictability of predator and prey favors predators in the spatial game.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere02724
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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