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Ecology. 2015 Jul;96(7):1887-98.

Predator cannibalism can intensify negative impacts on heterospecific prey.


Although natural populations consist of individuals with different traits, and the degree of phenotypic variation varies among populations, the impact of phenotypic variation on ecological interactions has received little attention, because traditional approaches to community ecology assume homogeneity of individuals within a population. Stage structure, which is a common way of generating size and developmental variation within predator populations, can drive cannibalistic interactions, which can affect the strength of predatory effects on the predator's heterospecific prey. Studies have shown that predator cannibalism weakens predatory effects on heterospecific prey by reducing the size of the predator population and by inducing less feeding activity of noncannibal predators. We predict, however, that predator cannibalism, by promoting rapid growth of the cannibals, can also intensify predation pressure on heterospecific prey, because large predators have large resource requirements and may utilize a wider variety of prey species. To test this hypothesis, we conducted an experiment in which we created carnivorous salamander (Hynobius retardatus) populations with different stage structures by manipulating the salamander's hatch timing (i.e., populations with large or small variation in the timing of hatching), and explored the resultant impacts on the abundance, behavior, morphology, and life history of the salamander's large heterospecific prey, Rana pirica frog tadpoles. Cannibalism was rare in salamander populations having small hatch-timing variation, but was frequent in those having large hatch-timing variation. Thus, giant salamander cannibals occurred only in the latter. We clearly showed that salamander giants exerted strong predation pressure on frog tadpoles, which induced large behavioral and morphological defenses in the tadpoles and caused them to metamorphose late at large size. Hence, predator cannibalism arising from large variation in the timing of hatching can strengthen predatory effects on heterospecific prey and can have impacts on various, traits of both predator and prey. Because animals commonly broaden their diet as they grow, such negative impacts of predator cannibalism on the heterospecific prey may be common in interactions between predators and prey species of similar size.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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