Is one defence enough? Disentangling the relative importance of morphological and behavioural predator-induced defences

Abstract

Many organisms show predator-induced behavioural and morphological phenotypic plasticity. These defence mechanisms are often expressed simultaneously. To estimate the relative importance of these two defences, we conducted a laboratory experiment using tadpoles of the common frog (Rana temporaria) as prey and Aeshna dragonfly larvae as predators. We first raised tadpoles in the presence and absence of caged predators to induce differences in defensive morphology, and then conducted free ranging predator trials in environments that were either with or without the presence of predation cues to induce differences in defensive behaviour. This 2 × 2 design allowed us to separate the effects of inducible morphology from inducible behaviour. Caged predators induced deeper bodies and tailfins and reduced activity levels in tadpoles. The time to first capture was shortest in tadpoles without morphological or behavioural defences. Tadpoles with a behavioural defence had a significantly longer time to first capture. Tadpoles with only antipredator morphology tended to have a longer time to first capture as compared to those without any induced defences. This treatment also had a higher number of injured tadpoles as compared to other treatments, suggesting that inducible morphology facilitates predator escape due to the ‘lure effect’. However, tadpoles with both behavioural and morphological defences did not have a longer time to first capture as compared to tadpoles with only morphological or behavioural induced defences. Our results suggest that both behavioural and morphological antipredator responses contribute to reduced capture efficiency by predators, but their simultaneous expression did not have any additive effect to the time of first capture and survival, and that the morphology response is most effective when tadpoles are active.

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Acknowledgments

This research was made in collaboration between the HAS University of Applied Sciences of Den Bosch, the Netherlands and the Department of Ecology and Genetics at the Uppsala University, Sweden. The article is a revised version of an internship report published at the HAS University of Applied Sciences of Den Bosch, the Netherlands. Osama Almalik provided statistical advice. We thank Pablo Burraco Gaitán for his valuable advice for constructive comments on the manuscript. This research is supported by the Swedish Research Council (to AL).

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Correspondence to Frank Johansson.

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Applicable international, national and/or institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed. All procedures performed involving animals were in accordance with the ethical standards of the department and were approved by the Swedish Board of Agriculture (C21/14).

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Communicated by M. Gibbons

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Dijk, B., Laurila, A., Orizaola, G. et al. Is one defence enough? Disentangling the relative importance of morphological and behavioural predator-induced defences. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 70, 237–246 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00265-015-2040-8

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Keywords

  • Morphological defence
  • Phenotypic plasticity
  • Antipredator behaviour
  • Rana temporaria