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The Fishing Strategy of the Mink (Mustela Vison); Time-Budgeting of Hunting Effort ?

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I. Behavioural evidence is presented for the existence of a "hunter" predator class which is postulated in addition to the "searchers", "pursuers" and "ambushers" described by ALCOCK (1975). 2. The search and pursuit manoeuvres of an amphibious, and thus time-limited, "hunter", the mink, predating schooling fish prey, are examined. Predatory behaviour was investigated at four prey densities (I, 5, 10 and 15 rudd) over three levels of refuge availability for the prey, open refuges, closed refuges and refuges absent. 3. No underwater stalking or ambushing manoeuvres were observed; however the prey may be initially located by the predator from an aerial vantage point where the mink may have been concealed from the fish. 4. The mink preferentially visited the fish refuges regardless of the number of fish available in the tank even though the number of fish captured in these structures was small (5 fish in 515 visits). 5. Hunting efficiency was maximised by balancing the proportion of search and pursuit time per dive. 6. Differential refuge usage was noted in the prey. Single fish could effectively utilise the refuges, and commonly did so; whereas individuals of the 10 and 15 group rarely used the hiding places preferring to remain as a school. Quite frequently individuals from the group of five fish would seclude themselves in the refuges. 7. Searching efficiency was lowest with single fish irrespective of the presence of refuges. 8. Following an attempted capture within a refuge a redistribution of search-effort was noted, such that the mink preferentially investigated that hide on subsequent dives whilst the level of tank-search declined. Visits to other refuges were maintained. 9. Searching efficiency increased from the first to the second encounter over the three hide conditions. 10. Search behaviour was categorised as tank-search, spot-search, hide-search and push-search, where the duration of push-search > spot-search > hide-search > tank-search. 11. When the refuges were permanently closed a general decline in refuge searching frequency was observed over a nine day test period. In contrast, structural modification to the refuges so that they remained open but either more or less accessible to the mink led to an increased frequency of visits. 12. Refuge availability is deemed advantageous to the fish in that the structures interfere with the predator's visual field and manoeuvrability. Advantages accrue to the mink in allowing a stealthy approach to the prey and the development of specific search strategies. Energetic advantages may also be apparent in that more places are available for the predator to push-off from.


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Affiliations: 1: (University College of North Wales, Dept. of Zoology, Bangor, Gwynedd, Wales, U.K


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