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Predation

Predation

Predation is the interaction in which the predator attacks live prey and consumes it. The interaction can be between two or more individuals, and is to the benefit of the predator and at the expense of the prey. The study of predator-prey interactions is broad and includes behaviors of the predator (such as searching, handling, and consuming prey), adaptations of the prey (survival strategies), and phenomena of their coexistence, such as stabilization factors that allow both groups to persist. It should be noted that there are four types of predators: true predators (including cannibals), grazers, parasitoids, and parasites. This entry will focus on true predators.

If a predator were fully efficient, all of its prey would be eaten. The prey would go extinct, and so would the predator. But the predator-prey interactions seen in nature allow both to sustain themselves. The first researchers to model how these interactions operated were A. J. Lotka and V. Volterra, in 1925 and 1926 respectively.

The Lotka-Volterra model assumes that predator reproduction is a function of the amount of prey consumed, so that when predators eat more prey, the predators increase in number through increased reproduction and immigration. There is a circular pattern of predator-prey interactions in this model: (1) when the predator population increases, the prey population decreases; (2) when the prey decrease in number, the predators decrease in number; (3) when the predator population decreases, the prey population increases; and (4) when the prey increase in number, the predator population again increases and the cycle begins anew.

When populations are plotted out over time, a pattern of coupled oscillation can be seen in which the apex, or peak, of one population coincides with the low point of the other. The numeral values of the two populations then cross and reverse positions.

A famous example of coupled oscillation between predator and prey populations occurs with the snowshoe hare and the lynx. Population peaks, as determined by numbers of pelts lodged with the Hudson Bay Company, were alternately spaced in time, with that of the lynx closely following that of the showshoe hare. The Lotka-Volterra model easily explains this pattern of predator-prey population sizes.

Although this model is not incorrect, it does oversimplify the scope of predator-prey interactions given that the major assumption, that when predators eat more prey the predator population increases, is often not exactly what is seen in nature. In actuality, when prey increases, a predator can have a numerical response, where predators do in fact increase in number through reproduction or immigration, or a functional response, where each predator eats more prey items.

Three types of functional responses are recognized, each of them showing a different relationship between prey density and amount of prey consumed. The Type I functional response is a direct relationship in which the predator eats all of the prey available up to a certain saturation point, when the predator can eat no more. After the predator reaches that saturation point, the prey density can continue to increase with no effect on how many prey items are being eaten. Some insects employ the strategy of having thousands of offspring that all hatch at once. This suddenly floods the food supply, ensuring that a significant portion will remain after predators eat their fill.

The Type II functional response is more commonly seen because it is more realistic, since it incorporates a factor called handling time. Handling time is the amount of time a predator must devote to each prey item it consumes. It is the time needed for pursuing, subduing, and consuming the prey, and then preparing for further search. In this type of response the relationship between prey density and consumption is not linear because it changes over time. At first, the consumption rate increases, but as prey density continues to increase, there is a decline in the rate at which consumption increases until a maximum level is reached. This gradual deceleration of consumption reflects the factor of handling time.

Lastly, the Type III functional response is the most complex. It is similar to Type II at high prey densities, but includes the additional factor that there is very little or no prey consumption when prey is at low densities. This means that the predator does not eat any of the prey until there is a certain amount available.

One reason for this is that when there are very few prey animals, they can all find ideal hiding places and easily keep themselves out of the reach of predators. When there are more prey, however, some are forced into less ideal refuges, or into foraging places that are out in the open, where they are more visible to predators.

Another reason that prey are often not consumed when they are at low densities relates to search images. A predator gets accustomed to looking in certain types of habitat for certain shapes, colors, or movement patterns in order to hunt at maximum efficiently. Using a search image for the prey items that are most abundant pays off, because the predator will have the most success in hunting that prey. Searching for something that is very rare, on the other hand, only wastes time and likely results in less food obtained in a given amount of time.

Related to the idea of search image is the phenomenon of switching. Even though a predator may have a preference for one type of prey, at times when that prey is at low densities and other prey is at high densities, the predator will switch to an alternate prey that is at a high density.

All three of these factorsthe ability of prey to hide, a search image for the predator, and prey switching by the predatorcombine to result in little or no prey taken when prey densities are particularly low. This allows prey populations to recover. Then, the predators increase their consumption until handling time again becomes a limiting factor. When this happens, the rate of consumption increase slows down and consumption evens out at a maximum.

A cannibal is a special type of predator. The term "cannibal" is applied to an individual that consumes another individual of the same species. Typically, cannibalism appears when there is simply not enough food available; in dense populations that are stressed by overcrowding (even when food is adequate); when an individual is weakened and vulnerable to attack as a consequence of social rank; and when vulnerable individuals, such as eggs and nestlings, are available. Frequently, the larger individuals do the cannibalizing, which can serve the purposes of obtaining a meal and reducing competition for food, mates, or territory in the future.

see also Food Web; Foraging Strategies; Interspecies Interactions.

Jean K. Krejca

Bibliography

Begon, Michael, John L. Harper, and Colin R. Townsend. Ecology, 2nd ed. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Scientific Publications, 1990.

Lotka, A. J. Elements of Physical Biology. Baltimore, MD: Williams & Wilkins, 1925.

Ricklefs, Robert E., and Gary L. Miller. Ecology, 4th ed. New York: W. H. Freeman, 2000.

Smith, Robert L. Elements of Ecology, 2nd ed. New York: Harper & Row, 1986.

Many large predators, such as mountain lions, tigers, and wolves, are on the federal list of endangered or threatened species. One of the reasons is that these animals need large areas to hunt; another reason is habitat loss.

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predation

predation An interaction between species in which one organism (the predator) obtains energy (as food) by consuming, usually killing, another (the prey). Most typically, a predator is an animal that catches, kills, and eats its prey; but predation also includes feeding by insectivorous plants and grazing interactions (e.g. the complete consumption of unicellular phytoplankton by zooplankton). Predation is analogous to parasitism in being both a means of feeding and a cause of immediate harm, but differs in that predators are often (but not always, e.g. piranha fish) larger than prey organisms and the prey is usually (but not always) wholly consumed. The distinction is not clear-cut, especially for insect populations. In detail, a continuous gradation of interactions is found from predation to parasitism.

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"predation." A Dictionary of Zoology. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Apr. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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predation

predation The interaction between species populations in which one organism, the predator, obtains energy (as food) by consuming, usually killing, another, the prey. Most typically, a predator is an animal that catches, kills, and eats its prey; but predation also includes feeding by insectivorous plants and grazing interactions (e.g. the complete consumption of unicellular phytoplankton by zooplankton). Predation is analogous to parasitism in being both a means of feeding and a cause of immediate harm, but differs in that predators are usually larger than prey organisms (but not always, e.g. piranha fish) and the prey is usually killed. The distinction is not clear-cut, especially for insect populations. In detail, a continuous gradation of interactions is found from predation to parasitism.

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"predation." A Dictionary of Ecology. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Apr. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"predation." A Dictionary of Ecology. . Retrieved April 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/predation

predation

predation The interaction between species populations in which one organism, the predator, obtains energy (as food) by consuming, usually killing, another, the prey. Most typically, a predator is an animal that catches, kills, and eats its prey; but predation also includes feeding by insectivorous plants and grazing interactions, e.g. the complete consumption of unicellular phytoplankton by zooplankton. Predation is analogous to parasitism in being both a means of feeding and a cause of immediate harm, but it differs in that predators are usually larger than prey organisms and the prey is usually killed. The distinction is not clear-cut, especially for insect populations. In detail, a continuous gradation of interactions is found from predation to parasitism.

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predation

predation An interaction between two populations of animals in which one (the predator) hunts, captures, and kills the other (the prey) for food. Predator–prey relationships form important links in many food chains. They are also important in regulating population sizes of both predator and prey, especially when the predator relies on a single prey species. The term predation is also used, more loosely, for any feeding relationship in which an organism feeds on any other living organism (animal or plant).

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"predation." A Dictionary of Biology. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Apr. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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predation

pre·da·tion / priˈdāshən/ • n. Zool. the preying of one animal on others: an effective defense against predation.

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"predation." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Apr. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"predation." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Retrieved April 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/predation