Behavioural Ecology


, Volume 144, Issue 2, pp 327-336

First online:

Water turbidity affects predator–prey interactions in a fish–damselfly system

  • Frank Van de MeutterAffiliated withLaboratory of Aquatic Ecology, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven Email author 
  • , Luc De MeesterAffiliated withLaboratory of Aquatic Ecology, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven
  • , Robby StoksAffiliated withLaboratory of Aquatic Ecology, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven

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Community structure may differ dramatically between clear-water and turbid lakes. These differences have been attributed to differences in the cascading effect of fish on prey populations, owing to the reduced efficiency of fish predation in the presence of macrophytes. However, recent theoretical ideas suggest that water turbidity may shape predator–prey interactions, and it is predicted that prey will relax its antipredation behaviour in turbid water (H1). As a result, the nature of predator–prey interactions is expected to shift from both direct and indirect in clear water to dominantly direct in turbid water (H2). We tested these ideas in a fish–damselfly predator–prey system. In a first behavioural experiment, we looked at antipredation behaviour of damselfly larvae isolated from habitats that differ in turbidity, in the presence of fish in clear and turbid water. As predicted in H1, the larvae were more active in turbid than in clear water. In a complementary enclosure experiment, we reared larvae in a clear-water pond and a turbid pond, respectively, and manipulated the origin of the larvae (clear-water, turbid pond), fish presence (absent, present), and vegetation density (sparse, abundant). In both ponds, fish had a direct negative effect on survival of the larvae, which was mitigated in the presence of vegetation. In the fish treatment, the change in average body mass tended to be higher in the turbid pond than in the clear-water pond, suggesting indirect effects of fish were mitigated in the turbid pond. This was supported by a negative effect of fish on the effective growth rate of larvae in the clear pond, but not in the turbid pond. These results are compatible with the idea that predator–prey relationships are mainly governed by direct effects in turbid water, and by direct and indirect effects in clear water.


Antipredation behaviour Direct and indirect effects Ischnura elegans Reciprocal transplant experiment Aquatic vegetation