Behavioural and physiological responses of wood mice (Apodemus sylvaticus) to experimental manipulations of predation and starvation risk

Rita I Monarca, Maria da Luz Mathias, John R Speakman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


Body weight and the levels of stored body fat have fitness consequences. Greater levels of fat may provide protection against catastrophic failures in the food supply, but they may also increase the risk of predation. Animals may therefore regulate their fatness according to their perceived risks of predation and starvation: the starvation-predation trade-off model. We tested the predictions of this model in wood mice (Apodemus sylvaticus) by experimentally manipulating predation risk and starvation risk. We predicted that under increased predation risk individuals would lose weight and under increased starvation risk they would gain it. We simulated increased predation risk by playing the calls made by predatory birds (owls: Tyto alba and Bubo bubo) to the mice. Control groups included exposure to calls of a non-predatory bird (blackbird: Turdus merula) or silence. Mice exposed to owl calls at night lost weight relative to the silence group, mediated via reduced food intake, but exposure to owl calls in the day had no significant effect. Exposure to blackbird calls at night also resulted in weight loss, but blackbird calls in the day had no effect. Mice seemed to have a generalised response to bird calls at night irrespective of their actual source. This could be because in the wild any bird calling at night will be a predation risk, and any bird calling in the day would not be, because at that time the mice would normally be resting, and hence not exposed to avian predators. Consequently, mice have not evolved to distinguish different types of call but only to respond to the time of day that they occur. Mice exposed to stochastic 24h starvation events altered their behaviour (reduced activity) during the refeeding days that followed the deprivation periods to regain the lost mass. However, they only marginally elevated their food intake and consequently had reduced body weight/fat storage compared to that of the control unstarved group. This response may have been constrained by physiological factors (alimentary tract absorption capacity) or behavioural factors (perceived risk of predation). Overall the responses of the mice appeared to provide limited support for the starvation-predation trade-off model, and suggest that wood mice are much more sensitive to predation risk than they are to starvation risk.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)331-339
Number of pages9
JournalPhysiology and Behavior
Early online date2 Jul 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2015


  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Body Mass Index
  • Body Weight
  • Corticosterone
  • Eating
  • Fasting
  • Hyperphagia
  • Leptin
  • Models, Animal
  • Murinae
  • Oxygen Consumption
  • Predatory Behavior
  • Risk Factors
  • Starvation
  • Time Factors


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