Positive effect of predators on prey growth rate through induced modifications of prey behaviour


  • Editor, C. Bernstein


Many prey modify behaviour in response to predation risk and this modification frequently leads to a foraging rate reduction. Although this reduction can have a clear direct negative effect on prey growth rate, theory predicts that a net positive effect can occur when the combined reduction in foraging by the entire population leads to a large increase in resource level. Here, I present experimental results that corroborate this counterintuitive prediction: the predation threat of ‘nonlethal’ caged larval dragonflies (Anax longipes) caused a net increase in small bullfrog (Rana catesbeiana) growth. A behavioural response (i.e. a reduction in activity level and microhabitat usage) was likely to have negatively affected growth, but was offset by a positive effect on growth from a large increase in resource levels (measured using a bioassay). Further, the positive Anax effect was dependent on nutrient level, illustrating the role of the resource response magnitude. Results of this study are discussed in the context of studies in which Anax had the opposite (i.e. negative) effect on tadpole growth. Predator-induced modifications in prey behaviour can have large negative or positive effects on prey growth, the sign and magnitude of which are dependent on relative species density and resource dynamics.