I am an ecologist interested in animal movement, species interactions and community ecology. My focus are predator-prey interactions, especially the consequences of non-consumptive predator effects on prey community patterns. Methodologically, I use spatially-explicit and individual-based simulation models that link patterns with underlying mechanisms and scale up from individuals to communities.
Predators affect prey animals in two different ways: directly by consuming (consumptive effects) and indirectly by evoking fear (non-consumptive effects). While it is clear that consumption has negative consequences for prey populations, the impact of fear is not that obvious. Prey individuals sensing the presence of a predator frequently respond with behavioral adaptations such as modifications in space use during foraging. These adaptations can have consequences on prey population dynamics, community structures and ecosystem functioning. While studies on non-consumptive predator effects mostly focus either on behavioral adaptations on the individual level or on possible effects for other trophic levels and ecosystem functioning, consequences on prey communities remain largely unknown despite their importance concerning conservation and management.
In my PhD-project I aim to understand the consequences of non-consumptive predator effects on mammalian prey communities. Therefore, I use a computer model that scales up from individual home range formation based on food availability and perceived predation risk to community structure and composition. In a first step I identify key mechanisms shaping prey community patterns under fear. Additionally, I explore the effect of fear for animal communities facing environmental changes such as fragmentation and habitat loss. The mechanistic basis of the model allows to link mechanisms and processes at the individual level with patterns occurring on the community level.