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Predator-prey space use and the spatial distribution of predation events

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In many systems, predators and prey interact spatially. A number of game theoretic models (joint ideal free distributions, IFD) have suggested that a population-level distribution of mobile predators and mobile prey in which predators match the distribution of the prey’s resources and prey are more evenly distributed will be stable. However, prey can often manage their exposure to predation risk by adjusting their space use and their level of apprehension or vigilance, while predators have been shown to behaviorally manage the risk level perceived by their prey. We used a system of predatory larval dragonflies (Anax junius) and southern leopard frog (Rana sphenocephala) tadpoles to explore how these species respond spatially to habitat features when alone (non-game situations) and together (game situations), then how predation events are distributed in relation to these features. In game and non-game situations, dragonflies avoided each other and showed no preference for tadpole resource patches, while tadpoles favored their resource patches, avoided caged, feeding dragonflies, and used a combination of avoidance and activity reduction to reduce their predation risk. Predation events were generally distributed closer to resource patches and farther from caged predators. The results suggest that dragonflies and tadpoles do not directly follow joint IFD predictions, but manage fear and risk through their behavioral strategies. The results also suggest that stationary or slowly-changing habitat features can anchor predator-prey spatial distributions, but that they are likely to be temporally variable in some systems.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Zoology, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, OK 74078-3052, USA

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