Fundamental issues in the study of predator-prey interactions include addressing how prey coexist with their predators and, moreover, whether predators promote coexistence among competing prey. We conducted a series of laboratory experiments with a freshwater assemblage consisting of two predators that differed in their foraging modes (a crayfish, Procambarus sp., and the western mosquitofish, Gambusia affinis) and their prospective anuran prey (tadpoles of the narrow-mouthed toad, Gastrophryne carolinensis, and the squirrel treefrog, Hyla squirella). We examined whether competition occurs within and between these two prey species and, if so, whether the non-lethal presence of predators alters the outcome of competitive interactions. We also asked whether the two species of prey differ in their susceptibility to the two types of predators and whether interspecific differences in predator avoidance behavior might account for this variation. Our results indicated that Gastrophryne was a stronger competitor than Hyla; at high densities, Gastrophryne reduced the body size of both congeners and conspecifics, as well as the proportion of surviving conspecifics that metamorphosed. However, the presence of mosquitofish did not alter the outcome of this competition, nor did either type of predator affect the density-dependent responses of Gastrophryne. In laboratory foraging trials, the number of tadpoles of each prey species that was killed, but not completely consumed by mosquitofish, was similar for Gastrophryne and Hyla. Yet, significantly more individuals of Gastrophryne than of Hyla were the first prey eaten by mosquitofish; there was no difference in the number of individuals of each species eaten by crayfish. Overall, more individuals of Gastrophryne than of Hyla were killed and completely eaten by mosquitofish at the end of the experiment. The two species of prey did not differ in their spatial avoidance of either type of predator, suggesting that this behavior did not play a significant role in the differential vulnerability of the prey to predation. By reducing the abundance of G. carolinensis, the potential exists for predators, such as mosquitofish, to ameliorate this species' competitive impact on other species. In this way, predators may promote coexistence of species within some assemblages of amphibians.
Additional publication details
Interspecific differences in susceptibility to competition and predation in a species-pair of larval amphibians