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The effect of prior experience on a prey’s current perceived risk

Abstract

The prior experience of prey may influence how they assess the level of predation risk associated with an information source. Here, I present the results from a set of experiments that demonstrate how the prior experience of green frog (Rana clamitans) tadpoles can influence their risk assessment during exposure to the chemical cue of predatory larval dragonflies (Anax spp.) consuming conspecific tadpoles. At the short-term scale, green frog tadpoles perceived a higher level of risk when consecutive cue exposures overlapped, but only when the total chemical cue concentration was weak. Weaker chemical cue concentrations may be less reliable than stronger cue concentrations, and overlapping cue exposures may increase the degree of certainty that tadpoles have in their perceived risk. When consecutive cue exposures did not overlap, tadpoles assessed the risk associated with each cue exposure independently. Predator-conditioned tadpoles responded longer during exposure to the Anax chemical cue than nonconditioned tadpoles, which suggests that a tadpole’s long-term experience eventually does influence its risk assessment. In general, the results suggest that a prey’s prior experience may influence its current perceived risk by influencing either the degree of certainty in or the level of its perceived risk. Understanding how the prior experience of prey influences their current risk assessment requires that the rate of decay of the value of prior experience should be identified at two timescales as an indicator of the current level of predation risk.

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Acknowledgments

I thank Christine Balmes for helping to maintain the tadpole cultures and setting up the experiments, Scott Peacor for providing the screened containers, and Earl Werner for providing access to the ESGR. Earl Werner, the Werner lab, and two anonymous reviewers provided helpful comments that greatly improved this manuscript. This research was funded through a University of Michigan Block Grant, an ESGR Scholarship, and NSF grant DEB-0089809 to Earl Werner and Scott Peacor. The experiments comply with the current laws of the United States of America.

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Correspondence to Michael E. Fraker.

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Communicated by Steven Kohler.

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Fraker, M.E. The effect of prior experience on a prey’s current perceived risk. Oecologia 158, 765–774 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-008-1185-9

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Keywords

  • Activity level
  • Antipredator behavior
  • Nonlethal interactions
  • Predation risk assessment