Table of Contents
What is Predation?
Predation is a population control strategy in ecology. As a result, when predators are limited, the number of prey should increase. Predators would be able to breed more and potentially modify their hunting patterns if this happened. As the number of predators rises, the number of prey diminishes. This causes a food shortage for predators, which can lead to the extinction of many predators.
Predation may be defined as an ecological process in which one animal (or an organism) kills and eats another animal (or an organism). A “predator” is an animal that kills another animal to feed on it. Prey is the animal that is slaughtered to be eaten. Predation is best seen in carnivorous interactions. A carnivore is a creature that obtains its energy only from the consumption of meat or animal tissues. One animal feeds on another in a carnivorous encounter. Wolves hunting deer or moose, an owl hunting mice, and lions hunting other animals are examples.
Predation In Ecology
Predation, according to ecological science, is an ecological process in which energy is transferred from one living creature to another dependent on the predator’s character and behaviour.
Predation, in another context, refers to an organism’s dependency on another by eating it as nourishment. Predation provides the energy for creatures to live longer and reproduce in order to ensure the survival of their species.
The young and the elderly are easy prey for predators. Young ones lack experience and understanding, making them more vulnerable to predator assaults. The aged animals, on the other hand, are not as robust as they once were, and so would not be able to defend themselves as effectively.
The predator is frequently greater than the victim. As is common in the oceans, the larger animals consume the smaller ones as food (where large fishes prey on small fishes or insects). However, there are times when little creatures prey on larger species, and this is a difficult task.
Predation of bigger animals is feasible because of a collective hunting strategy known as group predation. A troop of lions, wolves, or hyenas that can kill considerably larger animals is an example of group predation. Lions have been observed killing large buffalos that may weigh up to five times the weight of an individual. Ants are also known to engage in group predation.
Predation is not limited to animals; other living creatures, such as carnivorous plants, are also prey. Pitcher plants and Venus flytraps, for example, feed on insects and flies. There are three stages of Venus flytrap predation, as you can see. To begin with, the trap (which consists of two modified leaves) is open and ready for prey to enter. When a prey (such as a fly) enters the plant’s trap, it produces impulses that cause the plant to shut slightly.
The plant completely closes its trap with the following stimulus, trapping the victim inside. The trap then acts as a digestive organ, secreting enzymes that help the prey to be digested.
In the pitcher, there’s a pool of water with digestive enzymes that break down the bugs into digestible food. The bug is disintegrated by digestive enzymes, and the nutrients are transferred to the plant.
Predators may be defined as species that feed on other species. There are animal predators like cats, wolves, lions, and others, as well as plant predators like pitcher plants. The ecological connection between predator and prey keeps both populations under control. When a predatory animal begins to consume its prey, the prey population decreases while the predator’s population increases.
There will be fewer prey and more predators after some time. As a result of the reduced food supply, predator populations will decline, and prey populations will begin to rise. This predator-prey interaction has existed for millions of years on Earth.
Predators are classified according to their size, biology, and mode of predation. Predators, on the other hand, are mostly carnivores, or meat eaters. Other publications, on the other hand, classify herbivores and parasites as predators, based on a definition of predation that takes into account the biological movement of energy between species.
Predator Hunting Technique
Predators look for, identify, pursue, and kill their prey. The foraging cycle is the name given to a predator’s activity. The hunt entails locating the appropriate prey. A wolf, for example, will not seek out a large animal like a buffalo, preferring instead to hunt smaller animals like moose. Similarly, a creature known as a “mantid” prefers to grab tiny animals. This is due to the fact that it captures and eats its prey using its forelegs, which are not very huge or powerful.
As a result, there is a positive relationship between prey size and predator kind. After searching for the prey, the predator might decide whether to wait for it or pursue it. It also relies on the predator’s character as well as the quantity of prey. A plant, of course, will not follow a fly.
Some predators, such as tigers and lions, can wait for their prey to get within range before pursuing it. Predators employ a variety of hunting techniques. Capturing the prey is one of the techniques. Different predators employ a variety of catching tactics. Ambush (as used by lions, panthers, and other predatory animals), ballistic interception (as when a frog captures a fly flying by with a quick twitch of its sticky tongue), and chase are some of the tactics used (chasing).
• The animal uses the ambush strategy to study the environment and wait for prey in a more secluded location. The goal of an ambush assault is to surprise the target, leaving it with little chance of survival. Both vertebrate (frogs, angel sharks, etc.) and non-vertebrate predators utilise the ambush strategy (mantis shrimp, trapdoor spiders, etc.).
• Ballistic interception is a method in which a predator monitors its prey’s movement, anticipates its movement, and then intercepts the animal by attacking it with the predator’s natural weapon. Vertebrates like chameleons and non-vertebrates like dragonflies are examples of predators that utilise ballistic assaults.
• Pursuit is another strategy in which predators pursue their prey as it flees. The predator’s agility and expertise are required when pursuing prey. When prey moves in a single direction, the predator’s speed determines whether or not the prey is captured. The winner will be the one who has the fastest reaction time. However, the prey rarely goes in a straight path in most situations (for example, chasing a deer). In such a circumstance, the predator must calculate and follow the intercept path in a timely manner.
A predator that pursues its prey carelessly will ultimately lose it. The predator’s greatest method is parallel navigation, in which each movement of the prey brings it closer to the predator. Some predators disguise themselves before pursuing their prey. This allows them to get as near as possible to the prey. As a result, only the bare minimum of pursuit may be necessary.
In contrast to the high-speed pursuits of lions, tigers, cats, and other predators, there is another type of chase that needs great stamina and perseverance. In these types of chases, the predator pursues the victim across vast distances at a sluggish pace. The chase may last for hours. The finest example of such a predator is the African dog. It stalks its victim for many kilometres at a leisurely pace. Group chase predators are predators who hunt in groups. Such behaviour is seen in lions and wolves. This type of chase can aid in the capture and handling of bigger creatures.
Predator Prey Handling
After catching its victim, the predator must prepare it for consumption. This is a predator vs. prey battle in which the predator wants to devour the prey while the prey wants to flee. Predators can either kill or devour their victims alive. Because of their natural defensive systems, such as sharp claws, fangs, toxic spines, and so on, certain prey species are extremely dangerous to handle. Catfish, for example, can quickly lock their spine into an upright posture. If it gets inside the jaws of a predator, it may cause serious injury. Predators avoid this hazard by ripping the prey apart before devouring it.
The survival of the fittest is the basic premise of evolution. Predation has an effect on both the prey and the predators’ fitness. Both predators and prey must develop adaptations that allow them to consume while avoiding being eaten in order to survive and reproduce for the survival of their species. In genetically determined characteristics, the survival mechanism is handed on to children. The selection of enhanced predator predation and avoidance of predation by prey is based on natural selection.
Predators’ adaptations make it easier for them to catch their prey. Sharp claws, fangs, body shape, and venom are all characteristics of predators that help them catch their prey. A predator needs highly keen sensory organs to identify and watch the prey in addition to these characteristics. A heightened sense of smell, hearing, and vision emerged from the adaption. Raptors (birds of prey), for example, can detect their prey from a mile away. Similarly, the owl locates the sound and captures the mouse. Pit viper snakes can detect heat from their prey, which aids in their pursuit. Sound waves are used by bats and dolphins to navigate and find potential prey.
Creatures’ adaptability helps prey evade discovery and capture in nature. To escape discovery, several animals employ colour and camouflage techniques. Leaf insects, tiny lizards, moths, frogs, and other herbivorous creatures are among them. When the prey detects the predator, it freezes in place. A predator’s ability to seek visually is hampered by the lack of movement. There are times when predators get too near to their prey, and the victim escapes.
The predator may initiate the pursuit. Prey will try to escape being caught by moving away from the predator or sitting somewhere else where it will be unseen. However, such strategies do not always succeed. Predators are fooled or surprised by some prey species, giving them more time to run. To deceive the predator, lizards lower their tails. A predator captures the lizard’s tail as it escapes.
Similarly, moths may mislead and scare predators by flashing vividly coloured hindwings in front of them. Predators believe the vividly coloured species to be poisonous. Not all species with bright colours are poisonous, but they imitate them to avoid being eaten. The swallowtail butterfly, for example, imitates the repulsive Amauris and Danaeus species.
Chemical adaptation has been observed in both predators and prey. Chemicals are used by predators to attack prey, whereas chemicals are used by prey to counter-attack or escape being eaten. Venom, poisons, and toxins are used by prey to defend themselves. To kill their prey, poisonous snakes employ their deadly venom. These snakes may kill a larger animal by injecting their poison into their prey’s bloodstream while biting. The animal will perish in a few seconds. The snakes swallow their prayers rather than chewing them.
Whole goats or deer have been witnessed being devoured by bigger snakes. Some prey have developed defence systems that make them less appealing to predators. Caterpillars and monarch butterflies, for example, may consume milkweed, which is toxic to most omnivores and herbivores. The poisons are also consumed by butterflies when they eat this plant. Predators find them unappealing as a result.
Population Dynamics of Predators and Prey
There is a natural equilibrium between predator and prey populations. The population of prey can grow exponentially if there are no predators. It has the potential to improve the environment’s carrying capacity. Predators help to keep the population of prey under control by eating it. Because there is more food available as the population of prey grows, the number of predators grows as well. However, an increase in predator numbers might lead to a decrease in prey numbers. This, in turn, has an impact on the predator population, which is also declining due to food scarcity. Prey and predator populations experience cyclic oscillations as a result.
The researchers looked into the population dynamics of the snowshoe hare and lynx. They discovered that the hare population fluctuated over time, and that the lynx population fluctuated in lockstep with these variations.
Other variables, in addition to predator and prey, have a role in population dynamics. Environmental and human intervention are two of these causes. If there are numerous predators for the same prey, the prey population will plummet, forcing the predators to either find a new home or new prey to feast on. As a result, studying the food web (food cycle) in such settings becomes extremely difficult.
Researchers discovered that the food web in northern temperate zones is basic and that a population cycle exists. Researchers have also created computer mathematical models to describe the species’ population patterns. This will aid scientists in studying the population cycle and, as a result, help species escape extinction.
Energy Flow and Trophic Levels
The location of an organism in the food cycle is determined by its trophic level. The food cycle, often known as the food web, is a system that includes producers, consumers, and decomposers. Autotrophs are producers who obtain their nourishment from soil, water, air, and light. Other animals are not eaten as prey by them. Heterotrophs are another term for consumers. They are unable to create their own food and must consume other creatures, such as animals, plants, insects, and other microbes. Decomposers, on the other hand, are microbes that breakdown food or animal waste. Bacteria degrade organic matter naturally.
The trophic levels are defined as follows based on these three identities:
• Producers (LEVEL-01 (plants and algae make their own food)
• Herbivores (LEVEL-02) (The animals that eat plants to live)
• Carnivores (LEVEL-03) (Eat herbivores)
• Carnivores (LEVEL-04) (Eat other carnivores-prey on predators)
Predation can be shown in a variety of ways. Humans are one of the most obvious predators. Humans and other animals, unlike plants, cannot create their own sustenance. As a result, they must devour other animals or plants in order to survive.
i. Carnivorous Predation
One of the most prevalent types of predation is carnivorous predation. Lions hunting zebras, rhinos, buffalo, and wolves are the finest examples of carnivorous predation. Deer, sheep, and elk are big herbivores that wolves prey on. Wolves have powerful jaws, large bodies, and a keen sensory system that aids them in locating, capturing, and killing their prey.
Owls appear to be harmless birds, but they are mouse predators. Frogs, snakes, lizards, rabbits, and squirrels are also eaten by owls. Carnivorous predation can also be seen in the form of owls.
Aside from owls, many other birds, such as eagles, hawks, falcons, vultures, and others, are carnivorous predators. All of these birds eat mice, chickens, snakes, and fish, among other things.
Some plants, such as pitcher plants, have demonstrated carnivorous behaviour, capturing and digesting insects. Venus flytraps, on the other hand, function in a similar way. These plants are frequently found in nutrient-poor soils.
ii. Herbivorous Predation
Plants, grass, leaves, algae, and other plants are eaten by herbivorous predators. Herbivores have evolved to eat certain sorts of grass and leaves. For example, a rabbit is an herbivore and will eat specific types of grass and leaves. Strong stems and plants are inedible to it. Elephants are herbivores with flat teeth that crush readily, allowing them to consume stiff vegetation and stems. Cows eat grass, goats and sheep eat plant leaves, monkeys eat fruits, and gorillas eat soft stems and leaves of plants, to name a few examples of herbivore predation. Grasshoppers, for example, consume plant leaves, stalks, and flowers, and certain insects have demonstrated herbivorous predation behaviour.
iii. Parasitic Predation
Mites, ticks, and lice are examples of parasitic predation that does not kill the animal. The parasite’s host is generally a person, animal, or plant. Because parasitic fungi rely on their hosts for sustenance, they are also examples of parasitic predation.
Predator, Predation Citations
- Prey-predator phenological mismatch under climate change. Curr Opin Insect Sci . 2019 Oct;35:60-68.
- Predator-induced stress responses in insects: A review. J Insect Physiol . 2020 Apr;122:104039.
- Larval predation in malaria vectors and its potential implication in malaria transmission: an overlooked ecosystem service? Parasit Vectors . 2019 May 8;12(1):217.
- Minimizing animal welfare harms associated with predation management in agro-ecosystems. Biol Rev Camb Philos Soc . 2020 Aug;95(4):1097-1108.
- Intraguild predation between Pristionchus pacificus and Caenorhabditis elegans: a complex interaction with the potential for aggressive behaviour. J Neurogenet . Sep-Dec 2020;34(3-4):404-419.