The ability of prey to recognize and adequately respond to predators determines their survival. Predator‐borne, post‐digestion dietary cues represent essential information for prey about the identity and the level of risk posed by predators. The phylogenetic relatedness hypothesis posits that prey should respond strongly to dietary cues from closely related heterospecifics but respond weakly to such cues from distantly related prey, following a hierarchical pattern. While such responses have mostly been observed in prey at their first encounter with predators, whether prey maintain such hierarchical levels of investment through time remains unclear. We investigated this question by exposing Rhacophorus arboreus tadpoles to the non‐consumptive effect of gape‐limited newt predators Cynops pyrrhogaster that were fed one of five prey diets across a gradient of phylogenetic relatedness: frog tadpoles (Rhacophorus arboreus, Rhacophorus schlegelii, Pelophylax nigromaculatus, and Hyla japonica) and medaka fish (Oryzias latipes). Predators’ diet, time, and their interaction significantly influenced tadpole activity level. We found support for the phylogenetic relatedness hypothesis: Investments in defense were stronger to cues from tadpole diets than to cues from fish diet. However, such a hierarchical response was recorded only in the first four days following predator exposure, then gradually disappear by day 8 on which the tadpoles exhibited similar activity level across all predator treatments. The findings suggest that, at least under the threat of gape‐limited predators, prey use phylogenetic information to evaluate risk and appropriately invest in defense during early encounters with predators; however, energy requirements may prevent prey from maintaining a high level of defense over long exposure to predation risk.
Financed by the National Centre for Research and Development under grant No. SP/I/1/77065/10 by the strategic scientific research and experimental development program:
SYNAT - “Interdisciplinary System for Interactive Scientific and Scientific-Technical Information”.