In this study, we show that the protective advantage of a defence depends on prey density. For our investigations, we used the predator-prey model system Chaoborus-Daphnia pulex. The prey, D. pulex, forms neckteeth as an inducible defence against chaoborid predators. This morphological response effectively reduces predator attack efficiency, i.e. number of successful attacks divided by total number of attacks. We found that neckteeth-defended prey suffered a distinctly lower predation rate (prey uptake per unit time) at low prey densities. The advantage of this defence decreased with increasing prey density. We expect this pattern to be general when a defence reduces predator success rate, i.e. when a defence reduces encounter rate, probability of detection, probability of attack, or efficiency of attack. In addition, we experimentally simulated the effects of defences which increase predator digestion time by using different sizes of Daphnia with equal vulnerabilities. This type of defence had opposite density-dependent effects: here, the relative advantage of defended prey increased with prey density. We expect this pattern to be general for defences which increase predator handling time, i.e. defences which increase attacking time, eating time, or digestion time. Many defences will have effects on both predator success rate and handling time. For these defences, the predator’s functional response should be decreased over the whole range of prey densities.
Density-dependent effects of prey defences
Jeschke, J.M.; Tollrian, R.
Chaoborus obscuripes, Daphnia pulex, Density dependence, Functional response, Inducible defences