Badgers remain fearless in the face of simulated wolf presence near their setts. So suggests our new paper published today in the journal Ecology & Evolution.
In this study we investigated whether badgers vary their denning behaviour after perceiving wolves near their setts. We wanted to explore whether the transient presence of wolves shapes badger behaviour.
To test this, we simulated the presence of wolves near 10 setts. We broadcast howls once per half hour for four hours from just before sunset, which is the usual time badgers emerge from their setts in the evening. We monitored their behavioural response with camera traps.
Surprisingly, badgers did not vary their denning behaviour in response to the simulated wolf presence.
• They did not delay their emergence from a sett after a wolf was simulated to be nearby.
• They did not avoid using a sett on the day after perceiving a wolf to have been there.
This result contrasts with recent playback studies that found mesocarnivores take risk-avoidance measures after hearing playbacks of their predators.
A similar study carried out in Wytham Woods in Oxfordshire found badgers to be terrified of playbacks of humans and dogs, increasing their vigilance and delaying their emergence (Clinchy et al. 2016). In our paper we suggest a few explanations for why badgers don’t seem fear the nearby transient presence of wolves, but do fear the sounds of humans and their dogs.
The paper’s results also contrast with a previous study of ours. That one found badgers greatly vary their denning behaviour in response to the long-term presence of wolves in the vicinity of a sett.
It appears that different spatio-temporal scales of risk have differential effects on badger denning behaviour. In our paper we give a few possible reasons as to why this appears to be so.
We concluded that rather than take risk avoidance measures at all risky times and places, badgers likely display a diversity of reactions to large carnivore presence that depend on the context and spatiotemporal scale of the risk being perceived. In other words, wolf presence will not always play an important role in shaping badger behaviour.