Foraging responses of predators to novel toxic prey: effects of predator learning and relative prey abundance

David W. M. Nelson, Michael R. Crossland, Richard Shine*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Learning to avoid toxic prey items may aid native predators to survive the invasion of highly toxic species, such as cane toads Bufo marinus in tropical Australia. If the predators' initial aversion is generalized, native prey that resemble the toxic invader may receive a benefit through accidental mimicry. What ecological factors influence the acquisition of learned avoidance (and hence, the impact of invasion on both predators and native prey)? We conducted laboratory experiments to evaluate how the relative abundance of toad tadpoles compared to palatable native tadpoles (Litoria caerulea and L. rubella) affected the ability of native aquatic predators to discriminate between these two prey types. Both fish (northern trout gudgeon, Mogurnda mogurnda) and frogs (Dahl's aquatic frog, Litoria dahlii) learned to discriminate between toads and frogs within an eight-day period. Higher abundance of toad tadpoles relative to frog tadpoles enhanced rates of predator learning, and thus reduced predation on toads and increased predation on native tadpoles. In the field, spatial and temporal variation in the relative abundance of cane toads compared to native frogs may influence the rates at which these novel toxic items are deleted from predator diets, and the duration of predator protection afforded to natives that resemble the invader.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)152-158
Number of pages7
JournalOikos
Volume120
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2011
Externally publishedYes

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