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Behavioural Responses by Red-backed Salamanders to Conspecific and Heterospecific Cues

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Chemical cues released from injured prey are thought to indicate the proximity of a predator or predation event, and therefore, an area of elevated predation risk. Prey often avoid chemical cues released from injured heterospecifics, but there is little evidence to determine whether this is due to homologous cues among phylogenetically related species, or avoidance of injured syntopic species that experience predation from the same predators. The purpose of this study was to examine the response of terrestrial red-backed salamanders (Plethodon cinereus) to chemical cues from non-injured and injured members of their prey guild that vary in their relatedness to P.cinereus. In the laboratory, P.cinereus avoided chemical cues from injured conspecifics, injured and non-injured slimy salamanders (P.glutinosus), and injured confamilial dusky salamanders (Desmognathus ochrophaeus). Red-backed salamanders did not avoid rinses from non-injured conspecifics and dusky salamanders, or cues from injured and non-injured earthworms (Lumbricus sp.), a more distantly related prey guild member. These results cannot be fully explained by either phylogenetic relatedness (among plethodontid salamanders) or prey guild membership alone. We suggest that a combination of these factors, and perhaps others, likely influenced the evolution of heterospecific alarm cue avoidance in the red-backed salamander.

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