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Predation

What may be the most common way different species interact?


Biomes as different as deserts and wetlands share something very
important. All biomes have populations of interacting species. Species
interact in the same basic ways in all biomes. For example, all biomes have
some species that prey on others for food.

Predation
Predation is a relationship in which members of one species (the predator)
consume members of another species (the prey). The lionesses and zebra
in Figure below are classic examples of predators and prey. In addition to
the lionesses, there is another predator in this figure. Can you spot it? The
other predator is the zebra. Like the lionesses, it consumes prey species, in
this case species of grass. However, unlike the lionesses, the zebra does not
kill its prey. Predator-prey relationships such as these account for
most energy transfers in food chains and food webs.

Predators and Their Prey. These lionesses feed on the carcass of a zebra.

Predation and Population


A predator-prey relationship tends to keep the populations of both species in
balance. This is shown by the graph in Figure below. As the prey population
increases, there is more food for predators. So, after a slight lag, the
predator population increases as well. As the number of predators increases,
more prey are captured. As a result, the prey population starts to decrease.
What happens to the predator population then?

Predator-Prey Population Dynamics. As the prey population increases, why does the predator
population also increase?

In the predator-prey example, one factor limits the growth of the other factor.
As the prey population deceases, the predator population is begins to
decrease as well. The prey population is a limiting factor. A limiting
factor limits the growth or development of an organism, population, or
process.

Keystone Species

Some predator species are known as keystone species. A keystone


species is one that plays an especially important role in its community.
Major changes in the numbers of a keystone species affect the populations of
many other species in the community. For example, some sea star species
are keystone species in coral reef communities. The sea stars prey on
mussels and sea urchins, which have no other natural predators. If sea stars
were removed from a coral reef community, mussel and sea urchin
populations would have explosive growth. This, in turn, would drive out most
other species. In the end, the coral reef community would be destroyed.

Adaptations to Predation
Both predators and prey have adaptations to predation that evolve
through natural selection. Predator adaptations help them capture prey.
Prey adaptations help them avoid predators. A common adaptation in both
predator and prey is camouflage. Several examples are shown in
Figure below. Camouflage in prey helps them hide from predators.
Camouflage in predators helps them sneak up on prey.

Camouflage in Predator and Prey Species. Can you see the crab in the photo on the left? It is
camouflaged with the sand. The preying mantis in the middle photo looks just like the dead leaves in
the background. Can you tell where one zebra ends and another one begins? This may confuse a
predator and give the zebras a chance to run away.

Summary

Predation is a relationship in which members of one species (the predator)


consume members of another species (the prey).
A predator-prey relationship keeps the populations of both species in balance.

Introduction
Ladybird beetle preying on an aphid. (Source: Photo by Graham Shepard, Rothamsted Research)

Predation is an interaction between species in


which one species uses another species as food.
Predation is a process of major importance in
influencing the distribution, abundance, and
diversity of species in ecological communities.
Generally, successful predation leads to an increase
in the population size of the predator and a
decrease in population size of the prey. These effects on the prey population may then
ripple out through the ecological community, indirectly changing the abundances of
other species. One example of such indirect effects of predation involves the trophic
cascade. As the name implies, a trophic cascade occurs when the effects of predation
"cascade" down the food chain to affect plants or other species that are not direcrtly
eaten by the predator. Typically, a trophic cascade involves a predator feeding on
herbivores and reducing their abundance, which then releases plants from grazing
pressure and increases the biomass of vegetation. In addition to such ecological effects
of predation, which occur on time scales of one or a few generations of the organisms
involved, predation has also played, and continues to play, a major role over
evolutionary time in molding the phenotypes of many species.

Types of predation

Venus flytrap (Dionea muscipula) and prey. (Source: Botanical


Society of America)

By the most general definition, predation is a class


of ecological interactions in which one species
benefits (the predator) while the second species is
harmed (the prey). Cannibalism is simply
predation on another individual of the same
species. Another example of this general class of interactions is parasitism; as in
predation, one species benefits (the parasite) while the second is harmed (the host). The
distinction between these two types of interactions is that, typically, a predator kills its
prey more or less immediately (e.g., a shark eating a tuna or a venus fly trap consuming
a fly) whereas a parasite feeds for an extended period on a living host (e.g., a tapeworm
living in the body of a deer or a mistletoe "feeding" on a mesquite tree).
Finally, herbivory occurs when an animal uses a plant as food. In most cases, a single
act of herbivory does not kill a plant).

Predation and population dynamics


In many cases predation has a strong influence on the population
sizes of predator and prey. In general, increasing the population
size of prey will result in a corresponding increase in the
population size of the predator because the predator has more
food. Similarly, prey populations are expected to decline as the population size of a
predator increases because of increased predation pressure. Because the population
response of one species to a change in the other requires time for the population to
grow, predator-prey interactions sometimes result in population cycles, in which both
predator and prey populations each undergo regular increases and decreases, but the
population cycles are out of phase with one another.

Predation and species richness


Predation can either increase or decrease the number of species that coexist in a
community, depending on the favorability of the environment and on the competitive
status of the preferred prey species. For example, a keystone predator is one that feeds
on a competitively dominant prey species. By reducing the dominant prey's abundance,
the keystone predator releases competitively inferior prey from suppression by that
dominant species. As a result, keystone predation allows more prey species to coexist
within the community than would be possible in the absence of predation, and thus
increases species richness within the community (predator-mediated coexistence).
Conversely, when a predator feeds preferentially on competitively inferior prey species,
predation can further reduce the number of species in the community. In environments
that are favorable for prey, competition among prey species will be stronger, such that
keystone predation can be important in reducing competitive exclusion among prey and
thus increasing species richness. In unfavorable environments, on the other hand, most
prey species are stressed or living at low population densities such that predation is
likely to have negative effects on all prey species, thus lowering species richness.

Predation as a force of natural selection


The teeth of a female African Lion. (Source: Photo by Allison Westwood, Go2Africa 2006)

Given the strong impacts of predators on the fitness and population dynamics of their
prey, it is not surprising that predation has been an important factor molding
the evolution of traits of both predators and prey. The process of natural
selection favors individual predators with traits that make them more effective in

obtaining prey, thus driving the evolution of predator traits that allow them to more
effectively capture or feed on prey, while prey have evolved traits that enhance their
ability to escape or deter predation.
Predators have evolved a variety of techniques to catch, subdue, or exploit their prey
(e.g., fast running speed, sharp teeth and talons and camouflage) while prey have
evolved a variety of predator defense mechanisms to allow them to escape their
predators or reduce their desirability as prey (e.g., fast speed, camouflage, wary
behavior, physical defenses, and chemical defenses). Even plants can use chemical
defenses to deter herbivores. While some predators actively pursue their prey, others
use a "sit-and-wait" ambush strategy. Angler fishes actually lure their prey with an
appendage on their heads that resembles a worm or small fish that they wave around to
attract their prey. Generally, selective pressures are stronger on the prey than on the
predator. This maxim has been called the "life-dinner principle": if a fox unsuccessfully
attacks a rabbit then he loses only a meal, whereas if a rabbit attempting to escape from
a fox is unsuccessful, it loses its life.
A cheetah chasing a gazelle. (Source: Nature: Chasing Big Cats,
PBS.org)

Because predators impose a selective force on their


prey, while prey reciprocally impose selective
pressures on their predators, coevolution between
predators and prey should be common. For
example, over time, predation by foxes should
select for faster rabbits which, in turn, selects for faster foxes, which in turn selects for
faster rabbits, and so on. Such "arms races" between predators and prey (and between
parasites and their hosts) have strongly influenced the traits of many plants and
animals. For example, the intense predation and grazing characteristic of coral
reefs has caused evolution of noxious chemical defenses (toxins) and physical defenses
(spines and hard shells) in many of the seaweeds and sessile invertebrates that
dominate reef ecosystems.
Review

1. Describe the relationship between a predator population and the population


of its prey.
2. What is a keystone species? Give an example.
3. What is a limiting factor?
4. What is the role of camouflage in prey and predator?

1.
2.
3.
4.

How does this resource define predation?


How does predation change population sizes?
What is a "trophic cascade?"
What happens to a predator population as a prey population increases?
Explain your answer.
5. What happens to a prey population as a predator population increases?
Explain your answer.
6. How has natural selection changed predator and prey traits?