Effects of predation risk across a latitudinal temperature gradient
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The nonconsumptive effects (NCEs) of predators on prey behavior and physiology can influence the structure and function of ecological communities. However, the strength of NCEs should depend on the physiological and environmental contexts in which prey must choose between food and safety. For ectotherms, temperature effects on metabolism and foraging rates may shape these choices, thereby altering NCE strength. We examined NCEs in a rocky intertidal food chain across a latitudinal sea surface temperature gradient within the Gulf of Maine. The NCEs of green crabs (Carcinus maenas) on the foraging, growth, and growth efficiency of prey snails (Nucella lapillus) were consistent across a broad (~8.5 °C) temperature range, even though snails that were transplanted south consumed twice as many mussels (Mytilus edulis) and grew twice as much as snails that were transplanted north. The positive effects of warmer temperatures in the south allowed snails under high risk to perform similarly to or better than snails under low risk at cooler temperatures. Our results suggest that for prey populations residing at temperatures below their thermal optimum, the positive effects of future warming may offset the negative effects of predation risk. Such effects may be favorable to prey populations facing increased predation rates due to warmer temperatures associated with climate change. Attention to the direct and indirect effects of temperature on species interactions should improve our ability to predict the effects of climate change on ecological communities.