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Investment into Defensive Traits by Anuran Prey (Lithobates pipiens) Is Mediated by the Starvation-Predation Risk Trade-Off

Public Library of Science
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0082344
  • Research Article


Prey can invest in a variety of defensive traits when balancing risk of predation against that of starvation. What remains unknown is the relative costs of different defensive traits and how prey reconcile investment into these traits when energetically limited. We tested the simple allocation model of prey defense, which predicts an additive effect of increasing predation risk and resource availability, resulting in the full deployment of defensive traits under conditions of high risk and resource saturation. We collected morphometric, developmental, and behavioural data in an experiment using dragonfly larvae (predator) and Northern leopard frog tadpoles (prey) subject to variable levels of food availability and predation risk. Larvae exposed to food restriction showed limited response to predation risk; larvae at food saturation altered behaviour, development, and growth in response to predation risk. Responses to risk varied through time, suggesting ontogeny may affect the deployment of particular defensive traits. The observed negative correlation between body size and activity level for food-restricted prey – and the absence of a similar response among adequately-fed prey – suggests that a trade-off exists between behavioural and growth responses when energy budgets are limited. Our research is the first to demonstrate how investment into these defensive traits is mediated along gradients of both predation risk and resource availability over time. The interactions we demonstrate between resource availability and risk level on deployment of inducible defenses provide evidence that both internal condition and extrinsic risk factors play a critical role in the production of inducible defenses over time.

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