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Irresistible ants: exposure to novel toxic prey increases consumption over multiple temporal scales

Herr, Mark W., Robbins, Travis R., Centi, Alan, Thawley, Christopher J., Langkilde, Tracy
Oecologia 2016 v.181 no.3 pp. 749-756
Formicidae, at-risk population, feeding behavior, fire ants, indigenous species, introduced species, juveniles, learning, lizards, long term effects, predators, toxicity
As species become increasingly exposed to novel challenges, it is critical to understand how evolutionary (i.e., generational) and plastic (i.e., within lifetime) responses work together to determine a species’ fate or predict its distribution. The introduction of non-native species imposes novel pressures on the native species that they encounter. Understanding how native species exposed to toxic or distasteful invaders change their feeding behavior can provide insight into their ability to cope with these novel threats as well as broader questions about the evolution of this behavior. We demonstrated that native eastern fence lizards do not avoid consuming invasive fire ants following repeated exposure to this toxic prey. Rather fence lizards increased their consumption of these ants following exposure on three different temporal scales. Lizards ate more fire ants when they were exposed to this toxic prey over successive days. Lizards consumed more fire ants if they had been exposed to fire ants as juveniles 6 months earlier. Finally, lizards from populations exposed to fire ants over multiple generations consumed more fire ants than those from fire ant-free areas. These results suggest that the potentially lethal consumption of fire ants may carry benefits resulting in selection for this behavior, and learning that persists long after initial exposure. Future research on the response of native predators to venomous prey over multiple temporal scales will be valuable in determining the long-term effects of invasion by these novel threats.