Predation Risk Avoidance by Terrestrial Amphibians: The Role of Prey Experience and Vulnerability to Native and Exotic Predators


D. L. Murray, Department of Biology, Trent University, Peterborough, ON, Canada, K9J 7B8. E-mail:


We studied avoidance, by four amphibian prey species (Rana luteiventris, Ambystoma macrodactylum, Pseudacris regilla, Tarichia granulosa), of chemical cues associated with native garter snake (Thamnophis elegans) or exotic bullfrog (R. catesbeiana) predators. We predicted that avoidance of native predators would be most pronounced, and that prey species would differ in the intensity of their avoidance based on relative levels of vulnerability to predators in the wild. Adult R. luteiventris (presumably high vulnerability to predation) showed significant avoidance of chemical cues from both predators, A. macrodactylum (intermediate vulnerability to predation) avoided T. elegans only, while P. regilla (intermediate vulnerability to predation) and T. granulosa (low vulnerability to predation) showed no avoidance of either predator. We assessed if predator avoidance was innate and/or learned by testing responses of prey having disparate levels of prior exposure to predators. Wild-caught (presumably predator-exposed) post-metamorphic juvenile R. luteiventris and P. regilla avoided T. elegans cues, while laboratory-reared (predator-naive) conspecifics did not; prior exposure to R. catesbeiana was not related to behavioural avoidance among adult or post-metamorphic juvenile wild-reared A. macrodactylum and P. regilla. These results imply that (i) some but not all species of amphibian prey avoid perceived risk from garter snake and bullfrog predators, (ii) the magnitude of this response probably differs according to prey vulnerability to predation in the wild, and (iii) avoidance tends to be largely learned rather than innate. Yet, the limited prevalence and intensity of amphibian responses to predation risk observed herein may be indicative of either a relatively weak predator–prey relationship and/or the limited importance of predator chemical cues in this particular system.