Predation risk in tadpole populations shapes behavioural responses of prey but not strength of trait-mediated indirect interactions
26 April 2014Carlson, Bradley; Langkilde, Tracy
Prey animals often respond to predators by reducing activity levels. This can produce a trait-mediated indirect interaction (TMII) between predators and prey resources, whereby reduced foraging by prey in the presence of a predator causes an increase in prey resources. TMIIs play important roles in structuring communities, and it is important to understand factors that determine their strength. One such influence may be behavioural variation in the prey species, with indirect effects of predators being stronger within populations that are more responsive to the presence of a predator. We tested a) whether the behavioural responsiveness of populations of wood frog tadpoles to predator cues was related to the predation risk in their native ponds, and b) whether more responsive tadpoles yielded stronger TMIIs. To do this, we a) measured the activity of tadpoles from 18 populations in mesocosms with and without caged predators, and b) measured changes in the biomass of periphyton (the tadpoles’ diet) between predator treatments for each population. We found that tadpoles from higher predation risk ponds reduced their time outside refuges more in the presence of predators and tended to move less when visible, suggesting possible local adaptation to predation regimes. Though the presence of predators generally resulted in higher periphyton biomass - a TMII - there was no evidence that the strength of this TMII was affected by variation in tadpole behaviour. Foraging activity and general activity may be decoupled to some extent, enabling high predation risk-adapted tadpoles to limit the fitness costs of reduced foraging when predators are present.