Island tameness and the repeatability of flight initiation distance in a large herbivore.
Antipredator behaviours can be lost relatively quickly in populations that are relieved of predation, as is known for several species inhabiting islands. Flight initiation distance (FID) is often studied in the context of island tameness; however, little is known about the factors that influence and maintain FID variation in predation-free populations. Here, we studied FID in foals of an isolated predator-free population of feral horses (Equus caballus L., 1758) on Sable Island, Canada, to determine if FID could be used for research on consistent individual differences in risk aversion and island tameness. In addition to testing for temporal, spatial, and sex effects on FID, we compared repeatability estimates at two temporal scales (within and among days). Similar FID for measurements obtained on the same day and for males and females indicated an absence of short-term desensitization and sex effects. In contrast, FID decreased for measurements made on subsequent days and from east to west, which could reflect habituation to human presence and (or) other temporal and spatial processes. Repeatability was high (0.42±0.06), but tended to decrease with increasing time intervals. This study highlights the potential of FID for individual-based research on the ecology and evolutionary dynamics of risk aversion in predation-free populations.