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Can you dig it? Use of excavation, a risky foraging tactic, by dugongs is sensitive to predation danger

, : Can you dig it? Use of excavation, a risky foraging tactic, by dugongs is sensitive to predation danger. Animal Behaviour 74(Part 4): 1085-1091

Foraging and vigilance are mutually exclusive for some foraging tactics but not others. Thus, in response to changes in predation danger, prey species with multiple foraging tactics may switch facultatively between them, allowing for differential levels of vigilance. Using data from focal observations collected over 4 years ( 2002-2004, 2006) in Shark Bay, Western Australia, we explored the use of two tactics, cropping and excavation, by dugongs, Dugong dugon, foraging under risk of predation by tiger sharks, Galeocerdo cuvier. Overall, dugongs predominantly used the cropping tactic, which allows for regular visual scans, to harvest temperate sea grass species. Dugongs only used the excavation tactic, which precludes regular visual scans but allows individuals to access the nutritious rhizomes of preferred tropical sea grass species, in months when tropical species were most available ( February-May). However, during these months the time dugongs allocated to excavation was inversely related to shark abundance rather than the availability of these sea grass species. We conclude that use of foraging tactics by dugongs is sensitive to predation danger, and that individuals manage their risk of mortality via reduced use of a pro. table but potentially hazardous tactic when the likelihood of encountering predators is high. Excavating dugongs are more likely to disrupt sea grass meadow structure and promote succession than are those engaged in cropping. Thus, by altering the time dugongs devote to these alternative tactics, tiger sharks may exert an indirect effect on sea grass patch composition and structure and, ultimately, benthic communities.


DOI: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2007.02.009

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