, Volume 12, Issue 6, pp 729-738

Predictable changes in predation mortality as a consequence of changes in food availability and predation risk

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Theory predicts that animals will have lower activity levels when either the risk of predation is high or the availability of resources in the environment is high. If encounter rates with predators are proportional to activity level, then we might expect predation mortality to be affected by resource availability and predator density independent of the number of effective predators. In a factorial experiment, we tested whether predation mortality of larval wood frogs, Rana sylvatica, caused by a single larval dragonfly, Anax junius, was affected by the presence of additional caged predators and elevated resource levels. Observations were consistent with predictions. The survival rate of the tadpoles increased when additional caged predators were present and when additional resources were provided. There was no significant interaction term between predator density and food concentration. Lower predation rates at higher predator density is a form of interference competition. Reduced activity of prey at higher predator density is a potential general mechanism for this widespread phenomenon. Higher predation rates at low food levels provides an indirect mechanism for density-dependent predation. When resources are depressed by elevated consumer densities, then the higher activity levels associated with low resource levels can lead to a positive association between consumer density and consumer mortality due to predation. These linkages between variation in behaviour and density-dependent processes argue that variation in behaviour may contribute to the dynamics of the populations. Because the capture rate of predators depends on the resources available to prey, the results also argue that models of food-web dynamics will have to incorporate adaptive variation in behaviour to make accurate predictions.