Predator presence affects activity patterns but not food consumption or growth of juvenile corkwing wrasse (Symphodus melops)

Tommy Norin*, Josefin Sundin, Rachael Morgan, Anna H. Andreassen, Mirjam Amcoff, Ben Speers-Roesch, Fredrik Jutfelt, Sandra A. Binning, Dominique G. Roche, Timothy D. Clark

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Abstract: Indirect effects of predators can manifest themselves as changes in prey behaviour and physiology. Given that digestion requires energy, it has been suggested that prey will choose to eat smaller meals under predation risk to reserve a larger portion of the aerobic metabolic scope they have available for energetically demanding tasks more critical than digestion, such as escape. To test this prediction, we quantified food consumption and growth of juvenile corkwing wrasses (Symphodus melops) over 11 days in the presence or absence of a predator (Atlantic cod, Gadus morhua). We then quantified behaviour and food consumption of the same wrasses in behavioural arenas with a predator. All food consumption was examined in the context of the aerobic scope that would have been available during the digestive period. Overall, there was no effect of predator exposure on food consumption or growth, yet predator-exposed wrasses were more consistent in their daily food consumption, lending some support to our prediction of prey bet-hedging on meal size under predation risk. The lack of a clear pattern may have resulted from a relatively low percentage of aerobic scope (~ 20–27%) being occupied by digestion, such that fish retained ample capacity for activities other than digestion. In the subsequent behavioural trials, predator-exposed wrasses were more active and spent more time near the cod than predator-naïve wrasses, suggesting the former had habituated to predation threat and were more risk-taking. Our results highlight the complex and often counter-intuitive effects that predator presence can have on prey populations beyond direct consumption. 
Significance statement: Predators affect the behaviour of prey species by simply being present in the environment. Such intimidation by predators can change activity patterns of prey and be as important as direct predation for ecosystem dynamics. However, compared to behavioural changes, we know little about how predators indirectly affect prey physiology. We investigated if fish deliberately eat less food when a predator is present, in order to retain sufficient physiological capacity for avoiding a potential attack, on top of the energetically costly process of digesting. While our study confirms that predator encounters reduce prey activity, prey fish appeared to rapidly habituate to predator presence and we did not see reduced food consumption in predator-exposed fish; these were, however, more consistent than unexposed fish in their daily food consumption, suggesting that fish may still be mindful about protecting their aerobic capacity under predation risk.
Original languageEnglish
Article number14
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Issue number1
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Fish
  • Behaviour
  • Digestion
  • Metabolic rate
  • Specific dynamic interaction
  • Predation risk

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