Get access

The long-term impacts of predators on prey: inducible defenses, population dynamics, and indirect effects


J. T. Hoverman, Dept of Biological Sciences, Univ. of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA 15260, USA. E-mail:


Despite the amount of research on the inducible defenses of prey against predators, our understanding of the long-term significance of non-lethal predators on prey phenotypes, prey population dynamics, and community structure has rarely been explored. Our objectives were to assess the effects of predators on prey defenses, prey population dynamics, and the relative magnitude of density- versus trait-mediated indirect interactions (DMIIs and TMIIs) over multiple prey generations. Using a freshwater snail and three common snail predators, we constructed a series of community treatments with pond mesocosms that manipulated trophic structure, the identity of the top predator, and whether predators were caged or uncaged. We quantified snail phenotypes, snail population size, and resource abundance over multiple snail generations. We found that snails were expressing inducible defenses in our system although the magnitude of the responses varied over time and across predator species. Despite the expression of inducible defenses, caged predators did not reduce snail population size. There also was no evidence of TMIIs throughout the experiment suggesting that TMIIs have a minimal role in the long-term structure of our communities. The absence of TMIIs was largely driven by the lack of predator-induced reductions in resource consumption and the lack of consistent reductions in population size with predator cues. In contrast, we detected strong DMIIs associated with lethal predators suggesting that DMIIs are the dominant long-term mechanism influencing community structure. Our results demonstrate that although predators can have significant effects on prey phenotypes and sometimes cause short-term TMIIs, there may be few long-term consequences of these responses on population dynamics and indirect interactions, at least within simple food webs. Research directed towards addressing the long-term consequences of predator–prey interactions within communities will help to reveal whether the conclusions and predictions generated from short-term experiments are applicable over ecological and evolutionary timescales.