1. To better predict effects of climate change and predation risk on prey animals and ecosystems, we need studies documenting not only latitudinal patterns in growth rate but also growth plasticity to temperature and predation risk and the underlying proximate mechanisms: behaviour (food intake) and digestive physiology (growth efficiency). The mechanistic underpinnings of predator-induced growth increases remain especially poorly understood.
2. We reared larvae from replicated northern and southern populations of the damselfly Ischnura elegans in a common garden experiment manipulating temperature and predation risk and quantified growth rate, food intake and growth efficiency.
3. The predator-induced and temperature-induced growth accelerations were the same at both latitudes, despite considerably faster growth rates in the southern populations. While the higher growth rates in the southern populations and the high rearing temperature were driven by both an increased food intake and a higher growth efficiency, the higher growth rates under predation risk were completely driven by a higher growth efficiency, despite a lowered food intake.
4. The emerging pattern that higher growth rates associated with latitude, temperature and predation risk were all (partly or completely) mediated by a higher growth efficiency has two major implications. First, it indicates that energy allocation trade-offs and the associated physiological costs play a major role both in shaping large-scale geographic variation in growth rates and in shaping the extent and direction of growth rate plasticity. Secondly, it suggests that the efficiency of energy transfer in aquatic food chains, where damselfly larvae are important intermediate predators, will be higher in southern populations, at higher temperatures and under predation risk. This may eventually contribute to the lengthening of food chains under these conditions and highlights that the prey identity may determine the influence of predation risk on food chain length.