Relationship between moonlight and nightly activity patterns of the ocelot (Leopardus pardalis) and some of its prey species in Formosa, Northern Argentina
Abstract The moon can profoundly influence the activity patterns of animals. If predators are more successful under bright moonlight, prey species are likely to respond by shifting their own activity patterns (predator-avoidance hypothesis). However, the assumption that prey will necessarily avoid full-moon nights does not take into account that moonlight also allows prey to more easily detect predators, and to forage more efficiently. Thus, nightly activity patterns could depend on night vision capabilities (visual-acuity hypothesis). To consider the possible influences of moonlight and to distinguish between these hypotheses, we used camera-trapping records of a predator, the ocelot ( Leopardus pardalis ), and several of its night-active prey to compare activity patterns under different moonlight conditions. The ocelots' activity patterns were not strongly related to moonlight, but showed a slight tendency for higher activity during brighter nights. Tapeti rabbits ( Sylvilagus brasiliensis ) and brocket deer ( Mazama americana ) showed a clear preference for brighter nights. White-eared opossums ( Didelphis albiventris ) also showed a trend to be less active in new moon light. In contrast, smaller grey four-eyed opossums ( Philander opossum ) and the poor eye-sight nine-banded armadillo ( Dasypus novemcinctus ) showed similar activity patterns across all moon phases. Since activity patterns of most prey species were not shifted away from the activity of the ocelot, the differences between species are probably linked to their night vision capabilities, and emphasise the need for more information on the visual system of these taxa. Their activity patterns seem to be less strongly linked to avoidance of predation than previously thought, suggesting that foraging and predator detection benefits may play a more important role than usually acknowledged.
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