Predators can significantly affect prey by removing prey individuals and by changing prey behavior. The tradeoff between foraging behavior and predation risk may result in a trophic cascade that can have important effects on ecosystem processes. For herbivores that can feed both above‐ and belowground, it is likely that predation risk affects the location of feeding. We tested whether two species of predatory marsh crabs affected feeding behavior of the herbivorous crab, Sesarma reticulatum. We found that predatory crabs could kill or injure Sesarma and that Sesarma did less damage to its food plant Spartina alterniflora in the presence of the more dangerous predator. Sesarma prefers to feed on and grows better on belowground rhizomes than aboveground leaves; however, the costs of digging burrows to access rhizomes lead to higher mortality if it is the only diet option. The location of feeding did not affect total biomass of S. alterniflora. For Sesarma, a choice in feeding location allows the crabs the behavioral flexibility to balance the risks of predation, the nutritional benefit of feeding belowground, and the survival costs of belowground feeding. Similar tradeoffs are likely to increase the success of other herbivores that can feed both above‐ and belowground.
Ecosphere – Wiley
Published: Jan 1, 2018
Keywords: ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ;
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