Scared to death? The effects of intimidation and consumption in predator–prey interactions


Predation is a central feature of ecological communities. Most theoretical and empirical studies of predation focus on the consequences of predators consuming their prey. Predators reduce prey population densities through direct consumption (a density‐mediated interaction, DMI), a process that may indirectly affect the prey's resources, competitors, and other predators. However, predators can also affect prey population density by stimulating costly defensive strategies. The costs of these defensive strategies can include reduced energy income, energetic investment in defensive structures, lower mating success, increased vulnerability to other predators, or emigration. Theoretical and empirical studies confirm the existence of these induced costs (trait‐mediated interactions, TMIs); however, the relative importance of intimidation (TMI) and consumption (DMI) effects remains an open question. We conducted a meta‐analysis assessing the magnitude of both TMIs and DMIs in predator–prey interactions. On average, the impact of intimidation on prey demographics was at least as strong as direct consumption (63% and 51% the size of the total predator effect, respectively). This contrast is even more pronounced when we consider the cascading effects of predators on their prey's resources: density effects attenuated through food chains, while TMIs remained strong, rising to 85% of the total predator effect. Predators can thus strongly influence resource density even if they consume few prey items. Finally, intimidation was more important in aquatic than terrestrial ecosystems. Our results suggest that the costs of intimidation, traditionally ignored in predator–prey ecology, may actually be the dominant facet of trophic interactions.

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