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Predator chemical cues affect prey feeding activity differently in juveniles and adults

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Nonconsumptive predator effects on prey behaviour are common in nature, but the possible influence of prey life-history stage on such responses is poorly known. We investigated whether prey life-history stage may be a factor affecting prey feeding activity responses to predator chemical cues, for which we used dogwhelks (Nucella lapillus (L., 1758)) and their main prey, barnacles (Semibalanus balanoides (L., 1758)), as a model system. Barnacles use their modified legs (cirri) to filter food from the water column. Through a manipulative laboratory experiment, we tested the hypothesis that the presence of dogwhelks affects the frequency of leg swipes differently in juvenile and adult barnacles. Juveniles showed a similar feeding activity with and without nearby dogwhelks, but adults exhibited a significantly lower frequency of leg swipes when dogwhelks were present. Such an ontogenetic change in the response of barnacles to predatory cues might have evolved as a result of dogwhelks preferring adult barnacles over juvenile barnacles, as found previously. Alternatively, barnacles could learn to recognize predator cues as they age, as shown for other prey species. Overall, our study indicates that the nonconsumptive effects of predators on prey need to be fully understood under consideration of the possible ontogenetic changes in prey responses to predator cues.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Saint Francis Xavier University, Department of Biology, Antigonish, NS B2G 2W5, Canada. 2: Biologische Anstalt Helgoland, Section Functional Ecology, Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, 27498 Helgoland, Germany.

Publication date: 2011-12-01

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  • Published since 1929, this monthly journal reports on primary research contributed by respected international scientists in the broad field of zoology, including behaviour, biochemistry and physiology, developmental biology, ecology, genetics, morphology and ultrastructure, parasitology and pathology, and systematics and evolution. It also invites experts to submit review articles on topics of current interest.
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