Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 63, Issue 9, pp 1369–1375 | Cite as

Threat-sensitive generalization of predator recognition by larval amphibians

  • Maud C. O. Ferrari
  • Grant E. Brown
  • François Messier
  • Douglas P. Chivers
Original Paper


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.


Generalization Predator recognition Threat sensitivity Predator odor Larval amphibians Woodfrog Rana sylvatica 



We thank Peter Bednekoff and the anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments on our manuscript. We thank Jean and Glen Chivers for their help and support and for letting us invade their home and wetlands for the duration of our field season. We thank the Biology Department of the U of S for providing the predators. Research funding was provided to F. Messier and D. Chivers through the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. All work reported was in accordance with the Animal Care Committee Protocol # 20060014 from University of Saskatchewan.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Maud C. O. Ferrari
    • 1
  • Grant E. Brown
    • 2
  • François Messier
    • 1
  • Douglas P. Chivers
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of BiologyUniversity of SaskatchewanSaskatoonCanada
  2. 2.Department of BiologyConcordia UniversityMontrealCanada

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