In prey communities with shared predators, variation in prey vulnerability is a key factor in shaping community dynamics. Conversely, the hunting efficiency of a predator depends on the prey community structure, preferences of the predator and antipredatory behavioural traits of the prey. We studied experimentally, under seminatural field conditions, the preferences of a predator and the antipredatory responses of prey in a system consisting of two Myodes species of voles, the grey-sided vole (M. rufocanus Sund.) and the bank vole (M. glareolus Schreb.), and their specialist predator, the least weasel (Mustela nivalis nivalis L.). To quantify the preference of the weasels, we developed a new modelling framework that can be used for unbalanced data. The two vole species were hypothesised to have different habitat-dependent vulnerabilities. We created two habitats, open and forest, to provide different escape possibilities for the voles. We found a weak general preference of the weasels for the grey-sided voles over the bank voles, and a somewhat stronger preference specifically in open habitats. The weasels clearly preferred male grey-sided voles over females, whereas in bank voles, there was no difference. The activity of voles changed over time, so that voles increased their movements immediately after weasel introduction, but later adjusted their movements to times of lowered predation risk. Females that were more active had an elevated mortality risk, whereas in the case of males, the result was the opposite. We conclude that, in vulnerability to predation, the species- or habitat-specific characteristics of these prey species are playing a minor role compared to sex-specific characteristics.
2008. Vol. 50, no 3, 257-266 p.