Diagnosing predation risk effects on demography: can measuring physiology provide the means?
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Predators kill prey thereby affecting prey survival and, in the traditional top-down view of predator limitation, that is their sole effect. Bottom-up food limitation alters the physiological condition of individuals affecting both fecundity and survival. Predators of course also scare prey inducing anti-predator defences that may carry physiological costs powerful enough to reduce prey fecundity and survival. Here, we consider whether measuring physiology can be used as a tool to unambiguously diagnose predation risk effects. We begin by providing a review of recent papers reporting physiological effects of predation risk. We then present a conceptual framework describing the pathways by which predators and food can affect prey populations and give an overview of predation risk effects on demography in various taxa. Because scared prey typically eat less the principal challenge we see will be to identify measures that permit us to avoid mistaking predator-induced reductions in food intake for absolute food shortage. To construct an effective diagnostic toolkit we advocate collecting multiple physiological measures and utilizing multivariate statistical procedures. We recommend conducting two-factor predation risk × food manipulations to identify those physiological effects least likely to be mistaken for responses to bottom-up food limitation. We suggest there is a critical need to develop a diagnostic tool that can be used when it is infeasible to experimentally test for predation risk effects on demography, as may often be the case in wildlife conservation, since failing to consider predation risk effects may cause the total impact of predators to be dramatically underestimated.