, Volume 63, Issue 9, pp 1369-1375
Date: 27 May 2009

Threat-sensitive generalization of predator recognition by larval amphibians

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Despite the importance of acquired predator recognition in mediating predator–prey interactions, we know little about the specific characteristics that prey use to distinguish predators from non-predators. Recent experiments with mammals and fish indicate that some prey lacking innate predator recognition have the ability to display anti-predator responses upon their first encounter with those predators if they are similar to predators that the prey has recently learned to recognize. This phenomenon is referred to as generalization of predator recognition. In this experiment, we documented for the first time that larval amphibians (woodfrog, Rana sylvatica) have the ability to generalize the recognition of known predators to closely related novel predators. Moreover, we demonstrated that this ability is dependent on the level of risk associated with the known predator. When red-bellied newt, Cynops pyrrhogaster (known predator), was paired with simulated low risk, tadpoles displayed fright responses to newts and novel tiger salamanders, Ambystoma tigrinum, but not to novel African clawed frogs, Xenopus laevis. However, when the newt was paired with simulated high risk, tadpoles generalized their responses to both tiger salamanders and African clawed frogs. Larval anurans seem to have a wider generalization frame than other animals.

Communicated by P. Bednekoff