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The importance of predator behaviour on risk to prey

By Christos Ioannou


Both predator and prey have evolved to maximise reproductive success by balancing food intake with risk. There has been a bias in predator-prey studies, where prey\ud behaviour has been examined in detail, yet predators are assumed to follow simplistic rules. I use three-spined sticklebacks predating upon invertebrate prey to test a range of ways in which prey risk was hypothesised to be affected by predator behaviour.\ud \ud The relationship between encounter rate and prey density has been recently shown not to be directly proportional, and theoretical arguments have been made that predator search behaviour can explain this trend. I test these arguments, and show acceleration of a predator's search path can in fact lead to the observed less-than-directly proportional relationship between prey density and encounter rate.\ud \ud The perceptual constraints of predators can have major impacts on prey risk. Once encountered, an attack was more likely when prey were encountered late in a search, probably due to a decrease in anti-predator vigilance as the fish became more habituated to the arena. In a subsequent study, larger groups of prey were more quickly found, as were larger numbers of groups. This led to the conclusion that the field of attention is a subset of the total visual field, and this is also supported by denser prey being more conspicuous.\ud \ud Although the predator responded to increased prey group size and density with a reduced time to detect and attack prey, attacks on such groups were less successful due to the confusion effect. Interestingly, I show the effect of prey density to be sensitive to spatial scale, where a large-scale measure of density affected conspicuousness and a small-scale measure affected attack success. This was\ud explained by a reduction in the total number of prey in the visual field as a group of prey is approached and attacked.\ud \ud In the final chapter, I turn my attention to differences in temperament within a predator population, and how this affects prey risk. As expected, bolder fish represented a greater risk to the prey. However, as larger fish tended to be more bold, suggesting boldness was driven by their perception of predation risk, a within community behaviourally-mediated trophic cascade may occur. where the risk to prey is driven by their predators' own perceived risk of predation. This shows that optimal foraging decisions under the threat of predation, as well as perceptual constraints, can mediate the effect of predator behaviour on prey risk.\ud \u

Publisher: Institute of Integrative and Comparative Biology (Leeds)
Year: 2008
OAI identifier:

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