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Age and sex influence marmot antipredator behavior during periods of heightened risk


Animals adjust their antipredator behavior according to environmental variation in risk, and to account for their ability to respond to threats. Intrinsic factors that influence an animal's ability to respond to predators (e.g., age, body condition) should explain variation in antipredator behavior. For example, a juvenile might allocate more time to vigilance than an adult because mortality as a result of predation is often high for this age class; however, the relationship between age/vulnerability and antipredator behavior is not always clear or as predicted. We explored the influence of intrinsic factors on yellow-bellied marmot (Marmota flaviventris) antipredator behavior using data pooled from 4 years of experiments. We hypothesized that inherently vulnerable animals (e.g., young, males, and individuals in poor condition) would exhibit more antipredator behavior prior to and immediately following conspecific alarm calls. As expected, males and yearlings suppressed foraging more than females and adults following alarm call playbacks. In contrast to predictions, animals in better condition respond more than animals in below average condition. Interestingly, these intrinsic properties did not influence baseline time budgets; animals of all ages, sexes, and condition levels devoted comparable amounts of time to foraging prior to alarm calls. Our results support the hypothesis that inherent differences in vulnerability influence antipredator behavior; furthermore, it appears that a crucial, but poorly acknowledged, interaction exists between risk and state-dependence. Elevated risk may be required to reveal the workings of state-dependent behavior, and studies of antipredator behavior in a single context may draw incomplete conclusions about age- or sex-specific strategies.

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