A ‘dynamic’ landscape of fear: prey responses to spatiotemporal variations in predation risk across the lunar cycle

M. S. Palmer, J. Fieberg, A. Swanson, M. Kosmala, C. Packer

Research output: Contribution to journalLetterpeer-review

114 Scopus citations


Ambiguous empirical support for ‘landscapes of fear’ in natural systems may stem from failure to consider dynamic temporal changes in predation risk. The lunar cycle dramatically alters night-time visibility, with low luminosity increasing hunting success of African lions. We used camera-trap data from Serengeti National Park to examine nocturnal anti-predator behaviours of four herbivore species. Interactions between predictable fluctuations in night-time luminosity and the underlying risk-resource landscape shaped herbivore distribution, herding propensity and the incidence of ‘relaxed’ behaviours. Buffalo responded least to temporal risk cues and minimised risk primarily through spatial redistribution. Gazelle and zebra made decisions based on current light levels and lunar phase, and wildebeest responded to lunar phase alone. These three species avoided areas where likelihood of encountering lions was high and changed their behaviours in risky areas to minimise predation threat. These patterns support the hypothesis that fear landscapes vary heterogeneously in both space and time.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1364-1373
Number of pages10
JournalEcology letters
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank the Zooniverse staff and > 70 000 volunteers who contributed to Snapshot Serengeti classifications (complete list at www.snapshotserengeti.org/#/authors), in addition to the Serengeti Lion Project field staff, particularly D. Rosengren and I. Munuo. We greatly appreciate the insightful comments of Vicenzo Penteriani and two anonymous reviewers. The authors also acknowledge the Minnesota Supercomputing Institute (http://www.msi.umn.edu) for providing resources that contributed to data storage/processing and analysis. This study was supported by NSF grant DEB – 1020479, National Geographic explorer grants, NSF GRFP Grant #00039202, the James W. Wilkie Fund for Natural History Fellowship, the University of Minnesota Thesis Research Grant, the Alexander & Lydia Anderson Grant, and the University of Minnesota Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior Department Research and Travel awards. Research clearance was provided by the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute and Tanzania National Parks.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 John Wiley & Sons Ltd/CNRS


  • Anti-predator behaviour
  • Thomson's gazelle
  • buffalo
  • landscape of fear
  • lion
  • lunar cycle
  • predation risk
  • predator–prey interaction
  • wildebeest
  • zebra


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