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Predator community and resource use jointly modulate the inducible defense response in body height of crucian carp

Citation

de Meo, Ilaria et al. (2021), Predator community and resource use jointly modulate the inducible defense response in body height of crucian carp , Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.d2547d825

Abstract

Phenotypic plasticity can be expressed as changes in body shape in response to environmental variability. Crucian carp (Carassius carassius), a widespread cyprinid, displays remarkable plasticity in body morphology and increases body depth when exposed to cues from predators, suggesting the triggering of an anti-predator defense mechanism. However, these morphological changes could also be related to resource use and foraging behavior, as an indirect effect of predator presence. In order to determine whether phenotypic plasticity in crucian carp is driven by a direct or indirect response to predation threat, we compared twelve fish communities inhabiting small lakes in southeast Norway grouped by four categories of predation regimes: no predator fish, or brown trout (Salmo trutta), perch (Perca fluviatilis) or pike (Esox lucius) as main piscivores. We predicted the body shape of crucian carp to be associated with the species composition of predator communities, and that the presence of efficient piscivores results in a deeper body shape. We use stable isotope analyses to test if this variation in body shape was related to a shift in individual resource use – i.e., littoral rather than pelagic resource use would favor the development of a specific body shape - or other environmental characteristics. The results showed that increasingly efficient predator communities induced progressively deeper body shape, larger body size and lower population densities. Predator maximum gape size and individual trophic position were the best variables explaining crucian carp variation in body depth among predation categories, while littoral resource use did not have a clear effect. The gradient in predation pressure also corresponded to a shift in lake productivity. These results indicate that crucian carp have a fine-tuned morphological defense mechanism against predation risk, triggered by the combined effect of predator presence and resource availability.