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Chemical alarm cues allow prey to adjust their defensive behaviour to cover abundance

Lucon-Xiccato, Tyrone
Behavioural processes 2019 v.162 pp. 86-89
Pelophylax, antipredatory behavior, defensive behavior, eggs, environmental factors, frogs, hatching, predation, predators, prey species, tadpoles, vegetation cover
Aquatic prey species show sophisticated mechanisms to adjust their antipredator behaviours to the level of risk, which they estimate either by direct experience with predators or from indirect indicators such as chemical alarm cues released by injured conspecifics. For instance, evidence suggests that the alarm cues of tadpoles exposed to high levels of background predation risk elicit a stronger antipredator response compared to alarm cues of tadpoles exposed to low risk. Similarly, the alarm cues of tadpoles from environments with reduced vegetation cover might cause a stronger response than alarm cues of tadpoles from environments with abundant vegetation because tadpoles suffer high predation when vegetation is scarce. I tested this hypothesis in the edible frog, Pelophylax esculentus, by comparing the response of focal tadpoles (not exposed to vegetation manipulation) to alarm cues of donor tadpoles raised from eggs in either high- or low-vegetation treatment. I also tested the alarm cues of donor tadpoles switched from high- to low-vegetation treatments and vice versa after hatching because this would enable understanding whether an eventual difference in alarm cues occurred due to the embryonic or larval environments and whether the treatments at the two developmental stages had interactive effects. Alarm cues from the low-vegetation, and thus the high-risk, treatment elicited stronger antipredator response in focal tadpoles in comparison to the alarm cues from the high-vegetation, low-risk treatment. Results from switching donor tadpoles between vegetation treatments after hatching suggested that the observed effect was due to the vegetation treatment experienced by donor tadpoles during the larval stage, with no interactive effects. Chemical alarm cues convey information about cover abundance, an environmental factor that indirectly covaries with predation risk.