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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2007 Sep 4;104(36):14377-82. Epub 2007 Aug 27.

Risky prey behavior evolves in risky habitats.

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School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Yale University, 370 Prospect Street, New Haven, CT 06511, USA.


Longstanding theory in behavioral ecology predicts that prey should evolve decreased foraging rates under high predation threat. However, an alternative perspective suggests that growth into a size refuge from gape-limited predation and the future benefits of large size can outweigh the initial survival costs of intense foraging. Here, I evaluate the relative contributions of selection from a gape-limited predator (Ambystoma opacum) and spatial location to explanations of variation in foraging, growth, and survival in 10 populations of salamander larvae (Ambystoma maculatum). Salamander larvae from populations naturally exposed to intense A. opacum predation risk foraged more actively under common garden conditions. Higher foraging rates were associated with low survival in populations exposed to free-ranging A. opacum larvae. Results demonstrate that risky foraging activity can evolve in high predation-risk habitats when the dominant predators are gape-limited. This finding invites the further exploration of diverse patterns of prey foraging behavior that depends on natural variation in predator size-selectivity. In particular, prey should adopt riskier behaviors under predation threat than expected under existing risk allocation models if foraging effort directly reduces the duration of risk by growth into a size refuge. Moreover, evidence from this study suggests that foraging has evolved over microgeographic scales despite substantial modification by regional gene flow. This interaction between local selection and spatial location suggests a joint role for adaptation and maladaptation in shaping species interactions across natural landscapes, which is a finding with implications for dynamics at the population, community, and metacommunity levels.

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