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Predator cannibalism can shift prey community composition toward dominance by small prey species

Citation

Takatsu, Kunio (2022), Predator cannibalism can shift prey community composition toward dominance by small prey species, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.8cz8w9gt5

Abstract

Cannibalism among predators is a key intraspecific interaction affecting their density and foraging behaviour, eventually modifying the strength of predation on heterospecific prey. Interestingly, previous studies showed that cannibalism among predators can increase or reduce predation on heterospecific prey; however we know less about the factors that lead to these outcomes. Using a simple pond community consisting of Hynobius retardatus salamander larvae and their associated prey, I report empirical evidence that cannibalism among predators can increase predation on large heterospecific prey but reduce that on small heterospecific prey. In a field-enclosure experiment in which I manipulated the occurrence of salamander cannibalism, I found that salamander cannibalism increased predation on frog tadpoles but reduced that on aquatic insects simultaneously. The contrasting effects are most likely to be explained by prey body size. In the study system, frog tadpoles were too large for non-cannibal salamanders to consume, while aquatic insects were within the non-cannibals’ consumable prey size range. However, when cannibalism occurred, a few individuals that succeeded in cannibalising reached large enough size to consume frog tadpoles. Consequently, although cannibalism among salamanders reduced their density, salamander cannibalism increased predation on large prey frog tadpoles. Meanwhile, salamander cannibalism reduced predation on small prey aquatic insects probably because of a density reduction of non-cannibals primarily consuming aquatic insects. Body size is often correlated with various ecological traits, for instance, diet width, consumption and excretion rates, and is thus considered as a good indicator of species’ effects on ecosystem function. All this considered, cannibalism among predators could eventually affect ecosystem function by shifting the size composition of the prey community. 

Funding

Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, Award: 13J03564