Covariates and statistical models estimating nutritional condition and juvenile recruitment of North American porcupines from Nutritional state reveals complex consequences of risk in a wild predator–prey community

Animal populations are regulated by the combined effects of top-down, bottom-up and abiotic processes. Ecologists have struggled to isolate these mechanisms because their effects on prey behaviour, nutrition, security and fitness are often interrelated. We monitored how forage, non-consumptive effects (NCEs), consumptive predation and climatic conditions influenced the demography and nutritional state of a wild prey population during predator recolonization. Combined measures of nutrition, survival and population growth reveal that predators imposed strong effects on the prey population through interacting non-consumptive and consumptive effects, and forage mechanisms. Predation was directly responsible for adult survival, while declining recruitment was attributed to predation risk-sensitive foraging, manifested in poor female nutrition and juvenile recruitment. Substituting nutritional state into the recruitment model through a shared term reveals that predation risk-sensitive foraging was nearly twice as influential as summer forage conditions. Our findings provide a novel, mechanistic insight into the complex means by which predators and forage conditions affect prey populations, and point to a need for more ecological studies that integrate behaviour, nutrition and demography. This line of inquiry can provide further insight into how NCEs interactively contribute to the dynamics of terrestrial prey populations; particularly, how predation risk-sensitive foraging has the potential to stabilize predator–prey coexistence.