Abstract 1. Predators may affect prey populations by direct consumption, and by inducing defensive reactions of prey to the predation risk. Food scarcity frequently has effects on the inducible defences of prey, but no consistent pattern of food–predation risk interaction is known.
2. In this study the combined effect of food shortage and predation-risk perception in larvae of the mosquito Culex pipiens was investigated. Water exposed to the aquatic predator bug Notonecta glauca was used as a source of predation intimidation. Mosquito larvae were reared in three different media containing either no predator cues or the cues of N. glauca that had been fed on either C. pipiens larvae or on Daphnia magna. Food was provided in favourable or limited amount for these set-ups.
3. The results showed that chemical cues from the predators fed with prey’s conspecifics caused a decreased survival, delayed pre-imaginal development, and reduction in body size of emerged mosquitoes, whereas chemical cues from predators fed with D. magna caused only delayed development. Food scarcity significantly exacerbates the negative effect of the predator cues on pre-imaginal development of C. pipiens. Effects of the cues on larval development and body size of imagoes are significantly stronger for females than for males.
4. The present study suggests that when food is limited, predators can affect population dynamics of prey not only by direct predation, but also by inducing lethal and sublethal effects due to perception of risk imposed by chemical cues. To understand the effects of predators on mosquito population dynamics, environmental parameters such as food deficiency should be considered.