Assessing predator-prey interactions in a chemically altered aquatic environment: the effects of DDT on Xenopus laevis and Culex sp. larvae interactions and behaviour

  • Josie SouthEmail author
  • Tarryn L. Botha
  • Nico J. Wolmarans
  • Victor Wepener
  • Olaf L. F. Weyl


Behavioural assays are used as a tool to understand ecotoxicological effects on organisms, but are often not applied in an ecologically relevant context. Assessment of the effect of chemical contaminants on behaviours relating to fitness and trophic interactions for example, requires incorporating predator-prey interactions to create impact assessments. Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) is a controlled substance but is still regularly used as a form of mosquito control. There is little explicit information on the effect of DDT on animal behaviour and the consequent effects upon trophic interactions. This study uses a 3 × 2 factorial design to assess the feeding behaviour of Xenopus laevis toward Culex sp. larvae when supplied with different prey cues. We also assess the behavioural responses of mosquito larvae when supplied with no threat cue and predator threat cues when exposed to 0 µg/L, 2 µg/L and 20 µg/L DDT. There was a significant “DDT exposure” x “prey cue” interaction whereby DDT significantly decreased the foraging behaviour of X. laevis towards live prey cues, however there was no effect of DDT on X. laevis response to olfactory prey cues. Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane exposure caused mosquito larvae to appear hyperactive regardless of DDT concentration. Mosquito larvae anti-predator response was significantly dampened when exposed to 2 µg/L DDT, however when exposed to 20 µg/L the anti-predator responses were not impaired. Our results indicate a complex interplay in trophic interactions under DDT exposure, wherein effects are mediated depending on species and concentration. There are possible implications regarding reduced anti-predator behaviour in the prey species but also reduced foraging capacity in the predator, which could drive changes in ecosystem energy pathways. We demonstrate that in order to quantify effects of pesticides upon trophic interactions it is necessary to consider ecologically relevant behaviours of both predator and prey species.


Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane Xenopus laevis Foraging Trophic interactions Contaminants Pesticides 



This study was partially funded by the National Research Foundation (NRF)—South African Research Chairs Initiative of the Department of Science and Technology (Inland Fisheries and Freshwater Ecology, Grant no. 110507) and the NRF (Grant no. SFH150624120779). The research was carried out in the Water Research Group NABF, which was funded through the NRF National Nanotechnology Equipment Program (Grant no. 99024). JS and OLFW acknowledge use of infrastructure and equipment provided by the SAIAB Research Platform and the funding channelled through the NRF-SAIAB Institutional Support system. Partial funding of this study was also provided by the Flemish Interuniversity Council (VLIR) to ECN (VLIR-OUS project—ZEIN21013PR396). Opinions expressed and conclusions arrived at, are those of the authors and are not necessarily to be attributed to NRF or VLIR.

Author contributions

JS, TLB, NJW designed and completed experiments. JS analysed the data. JS, TLB, NJW, VW, OLFW drafted and edited the manuscript. VW and OLFW provided funding.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Josie South
    • 1
    Email author
  • Tarryn L. Botha
    • 2
  • Nico J. Wolmarans
    • 2
    • 3
  • Victor Wepener
    • 2
  • Olaf L. F. Weyl
    • 1
  1. 1.DST/NRF Research Chair in Inland Fisheries and Freshwater Ecology Laboratory, South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity (SAIAB)GrahamstownSouth Africa
  2. 2.Unit for Environmental Sciences and Management, Water Research GroupNorth-West UniversityPotchefstroomSouth Africa
  3. 3.Laboratory of Systemic, Physiological and Ecotoxicological Research, Department of BiologyUniversity of AntwerpAntwerpBelgium

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