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Insects are scared to death of fish

This is a dot-tailed whiteface dragonfly. Biologists at the University found that the mere presence of a predator causes enough stress to kill a dragonfly, even when the predator cannot actually get at its prey to eat it. Credit: Shannon J. McCauley

The mere presence of a predator causes enough stress to kill a dragonfly, even when the predator cannot actually get at its prey to eat it, say biologists at the University of Toronto.

"How prey respond to the fear of being eaten is an important topic in ecology, and we've learned a great deal about how these responses affect predator and prey interactions," says Professor Locke Rowe, chair of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB) and co-principal investigator of a study conducted at U of T's Koffler Scientific Reserve.

"As we learn more about how animals respond to stressful conditions – whether it's the presence of predators or stresses from other natural or human-caused disruptions – we increasingly find that stress brings a greater risk of death, presumably from things such as infections that normally wouldn't kill them," says Rowe.

Shannon McCauley, a post-doctoral fellow, and EEB professors Marie-Josée Fortin and Rowe raised juvenile dragonfly larvae (Leucorrhinia intacta) in aquariums or tanks along with their predators. The two groups were separated so that while the dragonflies could see and smell their predators, the predators could not actually eat them. "What we found was unexpected - more of the dragonflies died when predators shared their habitat," says Rowe. Larvae exposed to predatory fish or aquatic insects had survival rates 2.5 to 4.3 times less than those not exposed.
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TAGGED: BIOLOGY


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