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Trade-offs between risk and reward at multiple scales: A state-dependent approach Open Access


Other title
predation risk
stochastic dynamic program
optimal decision making
anti-predator behaviour
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Visscher, Darcy Richard
Supervisor and department
Merrill, Evelyn (Biological Sciences)
Examining committee member and department
Hudson, Robert (Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Science)
Ydenberg, Ronald (Biological Sciences, Simon Fraser University)
Lewis, Mark (Biological Sciences)
St. Clair, Colleen (Biological Sciences)
Department of Biological Sciences

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
A ubiquitous problem for all foragers is the trade-off between acquiring food energy while simultaneously avoiding the risk of predation. In central montane Alberta I modelled how ungulate forage changes with succession within cutblocks and the implications for forage availability to ungulates under current harvest regimes. Because cutblocks are discrete patches in space, I developed a dynamic state variable model for an ungulate to explore under what conditions an individual forager could (1) behaviourally avoid predation within a patch through inactivity, (2) overcome patch isolation when confronted with predation during transit between patches, and (3) alter patch use across a home range to optimize fitness. The model includes the requirement to process forage into energy through rumination behaviour that constrains foraging, and compares outcomes under a time-minimizing (sigmoid) and energy maximizing (linear) fitness functions. When an ungulate is in high energetic state, inactivity provides an effective behavioural refuge, or animals prioritize safety over energy gain, individuals avoid predation within patches reducing the need to move between patches. When energy acquisition is prioritized, individuals are at a low energetic state, or within patch anti-predator behaviours are ineffective, individuals move among patches to avoid predators in space, and configuration of the patches influences fitness. When model results were qualitatively compared to activity patterns and cutblock use of female, GPS-collared elk appear to follow a time minimizing strategy in their patch use across the home range and with their activity within riskier patches. I discuss the implications of these findings for the management of elk and cutblocks in west central Alberta.
License granted by Darcy Visscher ( on 2010-04-13T02:37:21Z (GMT): Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of the above terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis, and except as herein provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
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