Mesopredator suppression by an apex predator alleviates the risk of predation perceived by small prey.
ABSTRACT: Predators can impact their prey via consumptive effects that occur through direct killing, and via non-consumptive effects that arise when the behaviour and phenotypes of prey shift in response to the risk of predation. Although predators' consumptive effects can have cascading population-level effects on species at lower trophic levels there is less evidence that predators' non-consumptive effects propagate through ecosystems. Here we provide evidence that suppression of abundance and activity of a mesopredator (the feral cat) by an apex predator (the dingo) has positive effects on both abundance and foraging efficiency of a desert rodent. Then by manipulating predators' access to food patches we further the idea that apex predators provide small prey with refuge from predation by showing that rodents increased their habitat breadth and use of 'risky' food patches where an apex predator was common but mesopredators rare. Our study suggests that apex predators' suppressive effects on mesopredators extend to alleviate both mesopredators' consumptive and non-consumptive effects on prey.
Project description:Variability in habitat selection can lead to differences in fitness; however limited research exists on how habitat selection of mid-ranking predators can influence population-level processes in multi-predator systems. For mid-ranking, or mesopredators, differences in habitat use might have strong demographic effects because mesopredators need to simultaneously avoid apex predators and acquire prey. We studied spatially-explicit survival of cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus) in the Mun-Ya-Wana Conservancy, South Africa, to test hypotheses related to spatial influences of predation risk, prey availability, and vegetation complexity, on mesopredator survival. For each monitored cheetah, we estimated lion encounter risk, prey density, and vegetation complexity within their home range, on short-term (seasonal) and long-term (lifetime) scales and estimated survival based on these covariates. Survival was lowest for adult cheetahs and cubs in areas with high vegetation complexity on both seasonal and lifetime scales. Additionally, cub survival was negatively related to the long-term risk of encountering a lion. We suggest that complex habitats are only beneficial to mesopredators when they are able to effectively find and hunt prey, and show that spatial drivers of survival for mesopredators can vary temporally. Collectively, our research illustrates that individual variation in mesopredator habitat use can scale-up and have population-level effects.
Project description:Predation theory and empirical evidence suggest that top predators benefit the survival of resource prey through the suppression of mesopredators. However, whether such behavioural suppression can also affect the physiology of resource prey has yet to be examined. Using a three-tier reef fish food web and intermittent-flow respirometry, our study examined changes in the metabolic rate of resource prey exposed to combinations of mesopredator and top predator cues. Under experimental conditions, the mesopredator (dottyback, Pseudochromis fuscus) continuously foraged and attacked resource prey (juveniles of the damselfish Pomacentrus amboinensis) triggering an increase in prey O2 uptake by 38 ± 12·9% (mean ± SE). The visual stimulus of a top predator (coral trout, Plectropomus leopardus) restricted the foraging activity of the mesopredator, indirectly allowing resource prey to minimize stress and maintain routine O2 uptake. Although not as strong as the effect of the top predator, the sight of a large non-predator species (thicklip wrasse, Hemigymnus melapterus) also reduced the impact of the mesopredator on prey metabolic rate. We conclude that lower trophic-level species can benefit physiologically from the presence of top predators through the behavioural suppression that top predators impose on mesopredators. By minimizing the energy spent on mesopredator avoidance and the associated stress response to mesopredator attacks, prey may be able to invest more energy in foraging and growth, highlighting the importance of the indirect, non-consumptive effects of top predators in marine food webs.
Project description:Understanding the conditions that facilitate top predator effects upon mesopredators and prey is critical for predicting where these effects will be significant. Intraguild predation (IGP) and the ecology of fear are hypotheses used to describe the effects of top predators upon mesopredators and prey species, but make different assumptions about organismal space use. The IGP hypothesis predicts that mesopredator resource acquisition and risk are positively correlated, creating a fitness deficit. But if shared prey also avoid a top predator, then mesopredators may not have to choose between risk and reward. Prey life history may be a critical predictor of how shared prey respond to predation and may mediate mesopredator suppression. We used hierarchical models of species distribution and abundance to test expectations of IGP using two separate triangular relationships between a large carnivore, smaller intraguild carnivore, and shared mammalian prey with different life histories. Following IGP, we expected that a larger carnivore would suppress a smaller carnivore if the shared prey species did not spatially avoid the large carnivore at broad scales. If prey were fearful over broad scales, we expected less evidence of mesopredator suppression. We tested these theoretical hypotheses using remote camera detections across a large spatial extent. Lagomorphs did not appear to avoid coyotes, and fox detection probability was lower as coyote abundance increased. In contrast, white-tailed deer appeared to avoid areas of increased wolf use, and coyote detection probability was not reduced at sites where wolves occurred. These findings suggest that mesopredator suppression by larger carnivores may depend upon the behavior of shared prey, specifically the spatial scale at which they perceive risk. We further discuss how extrinsic environmental factors may contribute to mesopredator suppression.
Project description:Although the cascading impact of predators depends critically on the relative role of lethal predation and predation risk, we lack an understanding of how human-caused stressors may shift this balance. Emergent evidence suggests that pollution may increase the importance of predator consumptive effects by weakening the effects of fear perceived by prey. However, this oversimplification ignores the possibility that pollution may also alter predator consumptive effects. In particular, contaminants may impair the consumptive effects of predators by altering density-dependent interactions among prey conspecifics. No study has directly compared predator consumptive and non-consumptive effects in polluted versus non-polluted settings. We addressed this issue by using laboratory mesocosms to examine the impact of sublethal doses of copper on tri-trophic interactions among estuarine predator crabs Cancer productus, carnivorous whelk prey Urosalpinx cinerea, and the basal resource barnacles Balanus glandula. We investigated crab consumptive effects (whelks culled without crab chemical cues), non-consumptive effects (whelks not culled with crab chemical cues), and total effects (whelks culled with crab chemical cues) on whelks in copper polluted and non-polluted waters. Realistic copper concentrations suppressed the effects of simulated crab lethal predation (whelk culling) by removing density-dependent feeding by whelks. Specifically, reductions in conspecific density occurring in elevated copper levels did not trigger the normal increase in whelk consumption rates of barnacles. Weakened effects of fear were only observed at extremely high copper levels, suggesting consumptive effects were more sensitive to pollution. Thus, pollution may shape communities by altering the roles of predators and interactions among prey.
Project description: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.
Project description:Top predators can suppress mesopredators by killing them, competing for resources and instilling fear, but it is unclear how suppression of mesopredators varies with the distribution and abundance of top predators at large spatial scales and among different ecological contexts. We suggest that suppression of mesopredators will be strongest where top predators occur at high densities over large areas. These conditions are more likely to occur in the core than on the margins of top predator ranges. We propose the Enemy Constraint Hypothesis, which predicts weakened top-down effects on mesopredators towards the edge of top predators' ranges. Using bounty data from North America, Europe and Australia we show that the effects of top predators on mesopredators increase from the margin towards the core of their ranges, as predicted. Continuing global contraction of top predator ranges could promote further release of mesopredator populations, altering ecosystem structure and contributing to biodiversity loss.
Project description:Apex predators structure ecosystems through lethal and non-lethal interactions with prey, and their global decline is causing loss of ecological function. Behavioural changes of prey are some of the most rapid responses to predator decline and may act as an early indicator of cascading effects. The Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii), an apex predator, is undergoing progressive and extensive population decline, of more than 90% in long-diseased areas, caused by a novel disease. Time since local disease outbreak correlates with devil population declines and thus predation risk. We used hair traps and giving-up densities (GUDs) in food patches to test whether a major prey species of devils, the arboreal common brushtail possum (Trichosurus vulpecula), is responsive to the changing risk of predation when they forage on the ground. Possums spend more time on the ground, discover food patches faster and forage more to a lower GUD with increasing years since disease outbreak and greater devil population decline. Loss of top-down effects of devils with respect to predation risk was evident at 90% devil population decline, with possum behaviour indistinguishable from a devil-free island. Alternative predators may help to maintain risk-sensitive anti-predator behaviours in possums while devil populations remain low.
Project description:Anthropogenic changes in land use and the extirpation of apex predators have facilitated explosive growth of mesopredator populations. Consequently, many species have been subjected to extensive control throughout portions of their range due to their integral role as generalist predators and reservoirs of zoonotic disease. Yet, few studies have monitored the effects of landscape composition or configuration on the demographic or behavioral response of mesopredators to population manipulation. During 2007 we removed 382 raccoons (Procyon lotor) from 30 forest patches throughout a fragmented agricultural ecosystem to test hypotheses regarding the effects of habitat isolation on population recovery and role of range expansion and dispersal in patch colonization of mesopredators in heterogeneous landscapes. Patches were allowed to recolonize naturally and demographic restructuring of patches was monitored from 2008-2010 using mark-recapture. An additional 25 control patches were monitored as a baseline measure of demography. After 3 years only 40% of experimental patches had returned to pre-removal densities. This stagnant recovery was driven by low colonization rates of females, resulting in little to no within-patch recruitment. Colonizing raccoons were predominantly young males, suggesting that dispersal, rather than range expansion, was the primary mechanism driving population recovery. Contrary to our prediction, neither landscape connectivity nor measured local habitat attributes influenced colonization rates, likely due to the high dispersal capability of raccoons and limited role of range expansion in patch colonization. Although culling is commonly used to control local populations of many mesopredators, we demonstrate that such practices create severe disruptions in population demography that may be counterproductive to disease management in fragmented landscapes due to an influx of dispersing males into depopulated areas. However, given the slow repopulation rates observed in our study, localized depopulation may be effective at reducing negative ecological impacts of mesopredators in fragmented landscapes at limited spatial and temporal scales.
Project description:Predation has direct impact on prey populations by reducing prey abundance. In addition, predator presence alone can also have non-consumptive effects on prey species, potentially influencing their interspecific interactions and thus the structure of entire assemblages. The performance of potential prey species may, therefore, depend on both the presence of predators and competitors. We studied habitat use and food consumption of a marine mesograzer, the amphipod Echinogammarus marinus, in the presence/absence of a fish mesopredator and/or an amphipod competitor. The presence of the predator affected both habitat choice and food consumption of the grazer, indicating a trade-off between the use of predator-free space and food acquisition. Without the predator, E. marinus were distributed equally over different microhabitats, whereas in the presence of the predator, most individuals chose a sheltered microhabitat and reduced their food consumption. Furthermore, habitat choice of the amphipods changed in the presence of interspecific competitors, also resulting in reduced feeding rates. The performance of E. marinus is apparently driven by trait-mediated direct and indirect effects caused by the interplay of predator avoidance and competition. This highlights the importance of potential non-consumptive impacts of predators on their prey organisms. The flexible responses of small invertebrate consumers to the combined effects of predation and competition potentially lead to changes in the structure of coastal ecosystems and the multiple species interactions therein.
Project description:Non-consumptive effects (NCEs) of predators are part of the complex interactions among insect natural enemies and prey. NCEs have been shown to significantly affect prey foraging and feeding. Leafhopper's (Auchenorrhyncha) lengthy phloem feeding bouts may play a role in pathogen transmission in vector species and also exposes them to predation risk. However, NCEs on leafhoppers have been scarcely studied, and we lack basic information about how anti-predator behaviour influences foraging and feeding in these species. Here we report a study on non-consumptive and consumptive predator-prey interactions in a naturally co-occurring spider-leafhopper system. In mesocosm arenas we studied movement patterns during foraging and feeding of the leafhopper Psammotettix alienus in the presence of the spider predator Tibellus oblongus. Leafhoppers delayed feeding and fed much less often when the spider was present. Foraging movement pattern changed under predation risk: movements became more frequent and brief. There was considerable individual variation in foraging movement activity. Those individuals that increased movement activity in the presence of predators exposed themselves to higher predation risk. However, surviving individuals exhibited a 'cool headed' reaction to spider presence by moving less than leafhoppers in control trials. No leafhoppers were preyed upon while feeding. We consider delayed feeding as a "paradoxical" antipredator tactic, since it is not necessarily an optimal strategy against a sit-and-wait generalist predator.