Herbivores are thought to respond to the increased risk of attack by predators during foraging activities by concentrating feeding in safe habitats and by reducing feeding in the presence of predators. We tested these hypotheses by comparing tree seedling predation by meadow voles within large outdoor enclosures treated either with scent of large mammalian predators (red fox, bobcat, coyote) or a control scent (vinegar). In addition, we compared the distribution of voles in relation to naturally occurring variation in vegetation cover and the tendency of voles to attack tree seedlings planted in small patches with cover manipulation (intact, reduced or removed cover). Predator scent did not affect the rate or spatial distribution of tree seedling predation by voles, nor did it affect giving up densities (a surrogate of patch quitting harvest rate), survival rates, body size or habitat distribution of voles. In both predator scent and vinegar treatments voles preferred abundant vegetation providing good cover, which was also the site of almost all tree seedling predation. We conclude that large mammalian predator scent does not influence the perception by voles of the general safety of habitat, which is more strongly affected by the presence of cover.
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