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Title: Antipredator behaviors in urban settings: Ecological experimentation powered by citizen science

Animal behaviors are often modified in urban settings due to changes in species assemblages and interactions. The ability of prey to respond to a predator is a critical behavior, but urban populations may experience altered predation pressure, food supplementation, and other human‐mediated disturbances that modify their responsiveness to predation risk and promote habituation.

Citizen‐science programs generally focus on the collection and analysis of observational data (e.g., bird checklists), but there has been increasing interest in the engagement of citizen scientists for ecological experimentation.

Our goal was to implement a behavioral experiment in which citizen scientists recorded antipredator behaviors in wild birds occupying urban areas. In North America, increasing populations ofAccipiterhawks have colonized suburban and urban areas and regularly prey upon birds that frequent backyard bird feeders. This scenario, of an increasingly common avian predator hunting birds near human dwellings, offers a unique opportunity to characterize antipredator behaviors within urban passerines.

For two winters, we engaged citizen scientists in Chicago, IL, USA to deploy a playback experiment and record antipredator behaviors in backyard birds. If backyard birds maintained their antipredator behaviors, we hypothesized that birds would decrease foraging behaviors and increase vigilance in response to a predator cue (hawk playback) but that these responses would be mediated by flock size, presence of sentinel species, body size, tree cover, and amount of surrounding urban area.

Using a randomized control–treatment design, citizen scientists at 15 sites recorded behaviors from 3891 individual birds representing 22 species. Birds were more vigilant and foraged less during the playback of a hawk call, and these responses were strongest for individuals within larger flocks and weakest in larger‐bodied birds. We did not find effects of sentinel species, tree cover, or urbanization.

By deploying a behavioral experiment, we found that backyard birds inhabiting urban landscapes largely maintained antipredator behaviors of increased vigilance and decreased foraging in response to predator cues. Experimentation in citizen science poses challenges (e.g., observation bias, sample size limitations, and reduced complexity in protocol design), but unlike programs focused solely on observational data, experimentation allows researchers to disentangle the complex factors underlying animal behavior and species interactions.

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Author(s) / Creator(s):
 ;  ;  
Publisher / Repository:
Wiley Blackwell (John Wiley & Sons)
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Ecology and Evolution
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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