Large mammalian herbivores use a diverse array of strategies to survive predator encounters including flight, grouping, vigilance, warning signals, and fitness indicators. While antipredator strategies appear to be driven by specific predator traits, no prior studies have rigorously evaluated whether predator hunting characteristics predict reactive anti-predator responses. We experimentally investigated behavioral decisions made by free-ranging impala, wildebeest, and zebra during encounters with model predators with different functional traits. We hypothesized that the choice of response would be driven by a predator's hunting style (i.e., ambush vs. coursing) while the intensity at which the behavior was performed would correlate with predator traits that contribute to the prey's relative risk (i.e., each predator's prey preference, prey-specific capture success, and local predator density). We found that the choice and intensity of anti-predator behaviors were both shaped by hunting style and relative risk factors. All prey species directed longer periods of vigilance towards predators with higher capture success. The decision to flee was the only behavior choice driven by predator characteristics (capture success and hunting style) while intensity of vigilance, frequency of alarm-calling, and flight latency were modulated based on predator hunting strategy and relative risk level. Impala regulated only the intensity of their behaviors, while zebra and wildebeest changed both type and intensity of response based on predator traits. Zebra and impala reacted to multiple components of predation threat, while wildebeest responded solely to capture success. Overall, our findings suggest that certain behaviors potentially facilitate survival under specific contexts and that prey responses may reflect the perceived level of predation risk, suggesting that adaptive functions to reactive anti-predator behaviors may reflect potential trade-offs to their use. The strong influence of prey species identity and social and environmental context suggest that these factors may interact with predator traits to determine the optimal response to immediate predation threat.
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© 2021 Palmer, Packer. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.