Prey change behaviour with predation threat, but demographic effects vary with prey density: experiments with grasshoppers and birds




Ecology Letters (2011) 14: 335–340


Increasingly, ecologists emphasize that prey frequently change behaviour in the presence of predators and these behavioural changes can reduce prey survival and reproduction as much or more than predation itself. However, the effects of behavioural changes on survival and reproduction may vary with prey density due to intraspecific competition. In field experiments, we varied grasshopper density and threat of avian predation and measured grasshopper behaviour, survival and reproduction. Grasshopper behaviour changed with the threat of predation and these behavioural changes were invariant with grasshopper density. Behavioural changes with the threat of predation decreased per capita reproduction over all grasshopper densities; whereas the behavioural changes increased survival at low grasshopper densities and then decreased survival at high densities. At low grasshopper densities, the total reproductive output of the grasshopper population remained unchanged with predation threat, but declined at higher densities. The effects of behavioural changes with predation threat varied with grasshopper density because of a trade-off between survival and reproduction as intraspecific competition increased with density. Therefore, resource availability may need to be considered when assessing how prey behavioural changes with predation threat affect population and food web dynamics.