The effects of owl predation on the foraging behavior of heteromyid rodents

Joel S. Brown, Burt P. Kotler, Rosemary J. Smith, William O. Wirtz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

298 Scopus citations


Researchers have documented microhabitat partitioning among the heteromyid rodents of the deserts of North America that may result from microhabitat specific predation rates; large/bipedal species predominate in the open/risky microhabitat and small/quadrupedal species predominate in the bush/safer microhabitat. Here, we provide direct experimental evidence on the role of predatory risk in affecting the foraging behavior of three species of heteromyid rodents: Arizona pocket mouse (Perognathus amplus; small/quadrupedal), Bailey's pocket mouse (P. baileyi; large/quadrupedal), and Merriam's kangaroo rat (Dipodomys merriami; large/bipedal). Both kangaroo rats and pocket mice are behaviorally flexible and able to adjust their foraging behavior to nightly changes in predatory risk. Under low levels of perceived predatory risk the kangaroo rat foraged relatively more in the open microhabitat than the two pocket mouse species. In response to the presence of barn owls, however, all three species shifted their habitat use towards the bush microhabitat. In response to direct measures of predatory risk, i.e. the actual presence of owls, all three species reduced foraging and left resource patches at higher giving up densities of seeds. In response to indirect indicators of predatory risk, i.e. illumination, there was a tendency for all three species to reduce foraging. The differences in morphology between pocket mice and kangaroo rats do appear to influence their behavioral responses to predatory risk.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)408-415
Number of pages8
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Aug 1988
Externally publishedYes


  • Desert rodents
  • Habitat selection
  • Optimal foraging
  • Predation
  • Predatory risk

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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