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Oecologia. 2008 Oct;157(4):675-86. doi: 10.1007/s00442-008-1107-x. Epub 2008 Aug 9.

Emergent impacts of cannibalism and size refuges in prey on intraguild predation systems.

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Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Rice University, Houston, TX, USA.


Many organisms undergo ontogenetic niche shifts due to considerable changes in size during their development. These ontogenetic shifts can alter the trophic position of individuals, the type and strength of ecological interactions across species, and allow for cannibalism within species. In this study we ask if and how the interaction of a size refuge and cannibalism in the prey alters the dynamics of intraguild predation (IGP) systems. By manipulating the composition of large cannibalistic (Aeshna umbrosa) and predatory (Anax junius) dragonfly larvae in mesocosms we show that the interaction of cannibals and predators was non-linear and increased the survival of prey. The structure of the final resource community shared by prey and predator differed between small and large dragonfly treatments but not within size classes across species. In general, the small prey stage showed similar shifts in microhabitat use and refuge use when exposed to either conspecific cannibals or predators, while large cannibals showed no clear anti-predator response. However, further behavioral experiments revealed that specific behavioral components, such as distances between individuals or number of movements, differed when individuals were exposed to either cannibals or predators. This indicates that individuals discriminated between conspecific or heterospecific predators. Furthermore, in similar experiments large cannibals and predators showed different behaviors when exposed to conspecifics rather than to each other. These changes in behavior are consistent with the observed increase in prey survival. In general, the results indicate that cannibalism and ontogenetic niche shifts can result in behavior-mediated indirect interactions that reduce the impact of the predator on the mortality of its prey and alter the interactions of IGP systems. However, they also indicate that size is not the sole determinant and that we also need to account for the species identity when predicting the dynamics of communities.

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