Essay/Term paper: Predator - prey relationships
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Predator - Prey Relationships
The relationship between predators and their prey is an intricate and
complicated relationship; covering a great area of scientific knowledge. This
paper will examine the different relationships between predator and prey;
focusing on the symbiotic relations between organisms, the wide range of defense
mechanisms that are utilized by various examples of prey, and the influence
between predators and prey concerning evolution and population structure.
Symbiosis is the interaction between organisms forming a long term
relationship with each other. Many organisms become dependent on others and
they need one another or one needs the other to survive. Symbiotic interactions
include forms of parasitism, mutualism, and commensalism.
The first topic of discussion in symbiosis is parasitism. Parasitism is
when the relationship between two animal populations becomes intimate and the
individuals of one population use the other population as a source of food and
can be located in or on the host animal or animal of the other
population(Boughey 1973). No known organism escapes being a victim of
Parasitism is similar to preditation in the sense that the parasite derives
nourishment from the host on which it feeds and the predator derives nourishment
from the prey on which it feeds(Nitecki 1983). Parasitism is different from
most normal predator prey situations because many different parasites can feed
off of just one host but very few predators can feed on the same prey(1973). In
parasite-host relationships most commonly the parasite is smaller than the host.
This would explain why many parasites can feed off of one single host. Another
difference in parasite-host relationships is that normally the parasite or group
of parasites do not kill the host from feeding, whereas a predator will kill it"
s prey(1983). Efficient parasites will not kill their host at least until their
own life cycle has been completed(1973). The ideal situation for a parasite is
one in which the host animal can live for a long enough time for the parasite to
reproduce several times(Arms 1987).
Parasites fall under two different categories according to where on the
host they live. Endoparasites are usually the smaller parasites and tend to
live inside of the host(1973). These internal parasites have certain
physiological and anatomical adaptations to make their life easier(1987). An
example of this is the roundworm, which has protective coating around it"s body
to ensure that it will not be digested. Many internal parasites must have more
than one host in order to carry out reproduction(1989). A parasite may lay eggs
inside the host it is living in, and the eggs are excreted with the host"s feces.
Another animal may pick up the eggs of the parasite through eating something
that has come into contact with the feces.
The larger parasites tend to live on the outside of the host and are
called ectoparasites(1973). The ectoparasites usually attach to the host with
special organs or appendages, clinging to areas with the least amount of contact
or friction(1973). Both endo and ectoparasites have the capability of carrying
and passing diseases from themselves to hosts and then possibly to predators of
the host(1973). One example of this is the deer tick which can carry lyme
disease and pass it on to humans or wildlife animals. The worst outbreaks of
disease from parasites usually occur when a certain parasite first comes into
contact with a specific population of hosts(1975). An example of these
ramifications would be the onset of the plague.
Many parasites are unsuccessful and have a difficult time finding food
because appropriate hosts for certain parasites may be hard to find(1987). To
compensate for low survival rates due to difficulty in finding a host, many
parasites will lay thousands or millions of eggs to ensure that at least some of
them can find a host and keep the species alive(1987). The majority of young
parasites do not find a host and tend to starve to death. Parasites are also
unsuccessful if they cause too much damage to their host animal(1987).
Parasites are what is called host specific, this means that their anatomy,
metabolism, and life-style is adapted to that of their host(1973).
Some parasites react to the behavior of their hosts, an interaction called
social parasitism(1989). More simply put a parasite might take advantage of the
tendencies of a particular species for the benefit of it"s own. An example of
this is the European Cuckoo. In this case the grown cuckoo destroys one of the
host birds eggs and replaces it with one of it"s own(1991). The host bird then
raises the cuckoo nestling even when the cuckoo is almost too large for the nest
and much bigger than the host bird(1991). This is a case where the parasite
uses the host to perform a function and making life and reproduction easier on
Parasite and host relationships hold an important part of homeostasis
in nature.(1975). Parasitism is an intricate component in the regulation of
population of different species in nature.
Mutualism is another topic at hand in discussing predator-prey
Mutualism is a symbiotic relationship in which both members of the
association benefit(1989). Mutualistic interaction is essential to the survival
or reproduction of both participants involved(1989). The best way to describe
the relationships of mutualism is through examples. We will give examples of
mutualism from different environments.
Bacteria that lives inside mammals and in their intestinal tract receive
food but also provide the mammals with vitamins that can be synthesized(1975).
Likewise termites whose primary source of food is the wood that they devour,
would not be able to digest the food if it was not for the protozoans that are
present in their intestinal tract(Mader 1993). The protozoans digest the
cellulose that the termites cannot handle. Mycorrhizae which are fungal roots
have a mutualistic symbiotic relationship with the roots of plants(1989). The
mycorrhizae protect the plants roots and improve the uptake of nutrients for the
plant, in exchange the mycorrhizae receives carbohydrates from the plant.
Mutualistic partners have obtained many adaptations through coevolution.
Coevolution has led to a synchronized life cycle between many organisms and
through mutualism many organisms have been able to coincide together as a
working unit rather than individuals.
Commensalism is a relationship in which one species benefits from
another species that is unaffected(1975). For instance several small organisms
may live in the burrows of other larger organisms at no risk or harm to the
larger organisms. The smaller organisms receive shelter and eat from the larger
organisms excess food supply.
An example of commensalism is a barnacle"s relationship with a whale.
The barnacles attach themselves to the whale and they are provided with both a
home and transportation. Another example are the Remoras which are fish that
attach themselves to the bellies of sharks by a suction cup dorsal fin. The
Remora fish gets a free ride and can eat the remains of a sharks meals.
Clownfish are protected from predators by seeking refuge in the tentacles of sea
anemones. Most other fish stay away because the anemones have poison that does
not affect the clownfish, therefore the clownfish is safe.
Commensalism consists of dominant predators and opportunistic organisms
that feed off of the good fortune of the larger predators. Another topic
concerning predator prey relationships is the defense mechanisms that are
necessary for prey to outwit their predators.
In order for an animal to sustain life, it must be able to survive among
the fittest of organisms. An animals anti-predatory behavior determines how
long it can survive in an environment without becoming some other animals prey.
Some key antipredator adaptations will be described and examined .
Perhaps the most common survival strategy is hiding from one"s
enemies(Alcock,1975). Predators are extremely sensitive to movement and locate
their prey by visual cues. By getting rid of these key signals,
enemies(predators) are forced to invest more time and energy looking for them.
This may increase the time a prey has to live and reproduce(1975).
Hiding is generally achieved through cryptic coloration and
behavior(1975). How effective an organisms camouflage is depends on how long an
organism can remain immobile for a long amount of time. Animals can resemble a
blade of grass, a piece of bark, a leaf, a clump of dirt, and sand or gravel.
In less than 8 seconds, a tropical flounder can transform it"s markings to match
unusual patterns on the bottom of their tanks in the laboratory(Adler,1996).
When swimming over sand, the flounder looks like sand, and if the tank has polka
dots, the flounder develops a coat of dots(1996). Without any serious changes,
the flounder can blend surprisingly well with a wide variety of backgrounds
(Ramachandran, 1996). Behavioral aspects of camouflage in organisms include
more than just remaining motionless. An organism will blend into it"s
background only if it chooses the right one. When the right one is chosen, the
organism will position itself so that it"s camouflage will match or line-up
with the background. Despite the fact that an organism may be beautifully
concealed, it may still be discovered at some point by a potential
Detecting a predator is another antipredator adaptation that is very
useful. Some prey species have an advantage over other prey species by being
able to detect a predator before it spots them or before it gets to close to
them. In order to detect enemies in good time to take appropriate action, prey
species are usually alert and vigilant whenever they are at all
vulnerable(Alcock,1975). A test was conducted in the early 1960"s at Tufts
University dealing with ultrasonic sound wave that bats give off, and the way
moths can detect these soundwaves(May,1991). In most cases bats are blind, so
they rely only on their sense of hearing to help them maneuver and hunt while
flying in the dark. Also flying in the dark/nighttime, are insects, moths in
this case. In a laboratory, bats and moths were observed, and every time a moth
would come close to a bat giving off an ultrasonic signal, the moth would turn
and go the opposite way(1991). When the moth would become too close to the bat,
it would perform a number of acrobatic maneuvers such as rapid turns, power
dives, looping dives, and spirals(1991).
Detection by groups of animals will usually benefit the whole group
formation. By foraging together several animals may increase the chance that
some individual in the herd, flock, or covey will detect a predator before it is
too late(Alcock,1975). Each individual benefits from the predator detection and
alarm behavior of the others, which will increase the probability that it will
be able to get away.
There is always a chance that prey will be chased by a predator.
Evading predators is sometimes necessary for an organism to employ, to make sure
they will not be captured when being pursued. Outrunning an enemy is the most
obvious evasion tactic(Alcock,1975). When a deer or antelope is being chased,
they don"t just run in one direction to flee, they alter their flight path. The
prey will demonstrate erratic and unpredictable movements(1975). The deer or
antelope may zig and zag across a savanna to make it more difficult for the
predator to capture them.
Repelling predators is a strategy that can either be last chance tactic
or the primary line of defense for an organism. This attack on the predator is
used drive it away from the prey. These adaptations can be classified as
(1)mechanical repellents, (2)chemical repellents, (3)and group
defenses(Alcock,1975). An example of a mechanical repellent is sharp spines or
hairs that make organisms undesirable. Some chemical repellents involve
substances that impair the predators ability to move or cause a predator to
retreat due to undesirable odor, bad taste, or poisonous properties. Groups of
organisms can also repel predators. Truly social insects utilize many ingenious
group defenses(1975). For example, soldier ants posses an acidic spray and a
sticky glue to douse their enemies with(1975). They can also chop and stab
their enemies with their sharp jaws.
One of the last types of antipredator behaviors/adaptations is mimicry.
An organism that is edible but looks like it is a bad tasting organism is known
as a Batesian mimic. A good example of this mimicry works is how birds at first
were more likely to go after the more conspicuous looking items rather than
those that didn"t stand out(Adler,1996). If too many mimics exist, more
predators will consume them, and soon they will become a primary food source.
Organisms that share the same style of coloration take part in Mullerian mimicry.
An example of this is the yellow and black stripes on bees and wasps. The
symbiont states that this single look helps bird-brained predators to learn
which organisms to avoid. This warning coloration in turn saves the organisms
life as well as helps the predator to avoid a distasteful, maybe even toxic meal.
Defense mechanisms vary drastically, and change according to different
circumstances. The ability of an organism to survive depends solely on how well
it can use it"s defense mechanisms to prolong it"s life.
The next topic of discussion is the relationship between predators and
their prey. Predators and prey effect each other from day to day interactions
to the evolution of each other. Predator and prey populations move in cycles,
the number of predators will influence the number of prey and the number of prey
available will influence the population of predators. Predators and their prey
also influence the evolution of each other. Michael Brooke(1991) points out
that natural selection should favor traits that help a species survive. A
general example would be the increase in speed of potential prey. These
evolutionary traits are usually followed with an evolution in the predator.
Using the increase of maximum speed as an example, evolution will favor
predators that are fast enough to continue to catch the prey. This will lead to
the evolution of a faster predator. Brooke (1991)compares the evolutionary
process to an arms race, for both sides have to keep advancing in order to stay
While predator/prey populations fluctuate, it is important to note that
they operate within a cycle. In an ideal cycle, the predators and prey will
establish stable populations. Predators play a crucial role in the population
of the prey. The importance of predators can be seen in the Kaibab Plateau in
Arizona(Boughey, 1968). At the beginning of this century, 4,000 deer inhabited
727, 000 acres of land. Over the next 40 years, 814 mountain lion were removed
from the area. At the same time, over 7,000 coyote were removed. When the
predators were removed, the population jumped up to 100,000 deer by 1924
(Boughey, 1968). This population crashed in the next two years by 60% due to
overpopulation and disease. Without predators, the prey could not establish a
stable population and the land supported a much smaller number than the
estimated carrying capacity of 30,000 (Boughey, 1968).
The example can work in reverse; an increased number of predators
feeding on a limited number of prey can lead to the extinction of the predators.
This is the case with the ancient trilobites, these marine anthropods died 200
million years ago in the Permian age(Carr, 1971). According to Carr, (1971)over
60 families of this animal have been found in fossil records. This highly
successful creature became extinct due to changes in the prey population.
During the Permian period, glaciation took place that changed the availability
of the trilobites food source, algae. One may conclude that the prey population
dwindled and the trilobites could no longer support themselves.
Parasite/prey relations fit under the topic of predator/prey
relationships. Parasites feed off of their prey just as predators do(Ricklefs,
1993), but it is in the interest of the parasite to keep it"s host alive. In
some cases, the parasite will act so efficiently that it will lead to the death
of it"s host, but most parasites can achieve a balance with their hosts. Even
though parasites might not lead directly to the death of it"s host, it can
effect the host in a variety of other ways. A host could become weaker and not
be able to compete for food or reproduce, or the parasite could make it"s host
less desirable to mate with, as is the case with Drosophila nigrospiracula(the
Sanoran desert fruit fly).
Michal Polak et al.(1995) conducted a study examining the effects of
Macrocheles subbadius (a Ectoparasitic mite) on the sexual selection of the
fruit flies. The mites feed off of animal dung and rotting plant tissue (Polak
et al., 1995) and relies on the fruit flies for transportation between feeding
sites as well as a food source. Polak et al. found that male flies infested
with the mites had less of a chance of mating compared to males that had never
been infested. But Polak et al.(1995) also found that once the mites were
removed from the flies and the male was allowed to recover from any damage done
by the mite, the fruit fly had the same chance of mating than a male which was
never infested. This suggests that females are selective when choosing their
With females choosing not to mate with males that are infected with the
mites, the evolution of the species is being affected. Males that exhibit
resistance to mites are favored, so these characteristics will be passed onto
the offspring, leading to the development of mite resistant Drosophila
nigrospiracula. There are several theories on what basis the mites affect the
males. Based on the research compiled by Polak et al. (1995), males could be
overlooked because infested males might not survive to help raise the offspring,
or males do not mate because they are weakened by the parasites and do not
perform well in contests for mates. Whatever the case, parasites have an effect
on their prey.
In a similar scenario, the parasitic relationship between cuckoos and
other birds, the development of resistance to a parasite leads to the evolution
of the parasite. This polymorphism is known as coevolution. Nitecki uses grass
as a simple example of this phenomenon(1983). Grass evolves a resistance to a
strain of rust by making a single gene substitution, and the rust counters this
step with it"s own single gene substitution(Nitecki, 1983). He adds that many
parasites are host specific, so they are keyed into their host and can adjust to
the appropriate changes when necessary. This is why parasites are a continual
problem, not just an irritant that is rendered extinct by one simply change in
the host"s evolution.
This helps explain why the cuckoo continues to successfully lay it"s
eggs in the nests of Meadow Pipits, Reed Warblers, Pied Wagtails, and
Dunnocks(Brooke, 1991). According to Brooke(1991), the host birds usually are
deceived by the cuckoo"s egg and then raise the cuckoo chick instead of their
own. By examining the cuckoo, it is easy to see how evolution has perfected the
parasitic process. According to Brooke (1991), the cuckoo will watch it"s prey
as it builds its nest, wait until both parents are away from the nest, then
enter the nest to remove one of the original eggs and lay it"s own. Each
species of cuckoo has evolved to specifically target one of the four possible
birds. According to Brooke, (1991) the Great Reed Warbler-Cuckoo will lay an
egg that is similar in size and color to the hosts, and the cuckoo has perfected
the intrusion to a science, spending about 10 seconds in the nest of it"s host.
The next step of parasitism comes once the cuckoo has hatched. The
process that the chick goes through is described by Brooke (1991); the chick
hatches before the rest of the clutch due to it"s shorter incubation period and
then pushes the other eggs out of the nest. The host family will not abandon
the chick, while the exact reason is not known, there are several theories.
According to Brooke (1991), the parents have nothing to compare the chick with
or do not decide that it is too late to raise a new clutch and will raise their
Brooke describes some of the tests carried out in his research (1991)
concerning the factors that influence the rejection rate of cuckoo eggs. Most
birds will not reject eggs that are similar too their eggs, but larger eggs are
have a higher rate of rejection. But if the host birds see the cuckoo in the
nest, then the rate of rejection is much increased(Brooke, 1991), which explains
why cuckoos have evolved such a fast predatory process.
Brooke shows an example of the evolutionary process at work when he
examines the Dunnock"s relationship with the cuckoo(1991). The Dunnock-Cuckoo
has not developed an egg that mimics the Dunnock egg because Dunnocks accept
eggs of any size and color. Brooke (1991) believes that the Dunnock is a new
species of bird under parasitism, for only 2% of the Dunnocks are preyed upon in
England. Therefore, Dunnocks have not yet developed any defenses against the
cuckoo, so the cuckoo has no need to develop any traits to aid in parasitism.
Brooke (1991) showed other examples of evolution by testing isolated species of
hosts. These birds were not as discriminating, implying that they lacked the
evolutionary advancements of detecting and rejecting parasitic eggs. The cuckoo
and their hosts are clear examples of how both the predators and they prey
affect the evolution of each other.
In some cases, predator/prey relations take place between members of the
same species. Many animals exhibit group behavior; worker bees serve the queen
bee and wolves follow an established ranking system. But when members of the
same species endanger each other for individual protection, the member of the
species that faces death is being used as prey by the member of the species
surviving. Robert Heisohn describes this relationship in lions when territorial
disputes occur. The leader lion will be 50-200 meters ahead of the laggards
when approaching an invading lion(Heinsohn, 1995). The leader will face severe
injury and even death while the laggards reduce their risk by staying
behind(Heinsohn, 1995). Similar behavior has been observed in many species of
birds. The hatchlings commit siblicide in order to maximize their own chances
of survival as described by Hugh Drommond et al. (1990). Drommond et al.
observed cases of siblicide in black eagles; one of the chicks is hatched
usually 3 days before the other and therefore is significantly larger than it"s
sibling (1990). Drommond et al. observed the older eaglet deal 1569 pecks to it"
s younger sibling in 3 days, eventually killing the younger chick. This
phenomena supports several key concepts in evolution. The older sibling is
competing with others for resources(food and nesting space), so killing the
weaker member promotes the survival of the older bird (Drommond et al., 1990).
If resources are limited and both siblings cannot survive, the species will
continue to survive due to the death of the younger sibling. However, Drommond
et al.(1990) point out that there are several evolutionary losses that occur
when a sibling dies; reproductive potential is lost as well as a degree of
insurance(in case one of the offspring does not survive to maturity). Excuse
the pun, but putting all of the eggs in one basket is a large risk.
Predators and their prey are part of a cycle; both are necessary
components and they depend on each other for their existence. Any change made
in one area will affect the other.
Overall, predator prey relations are very complex. By breaking the
topic into the three topics of; symbiotic relationships, defense mechanisms, and
the influence relationship between predators and prey. It is important to see
how all three of these subjects tie in together. Parasitism is an example of a
symbiotic relationship, parasites are predators living off of their prey, and
parasites also effect the evolution of their hosts. Natural selection favors
species that are resistant to parasites, so these organisms evolve. The
organisms have a range of defense mechanisms available in order to protect
themselves from predators. So, predators now face tougher prey, so they undergo
evolution in order to stay successful. This completes the cycle and leads to a
diverse and interesting world.
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379-385. Boughey, Arthur S. 1968. Ecology of Populations. New York, Macmillan
89-101. Brooke, Michael and Nicholas B. Davies. 1991. Coevolution of
the Cuckoo and Its Hosts. Scientific American, 264:92. Brum, Gil, Larry
McKane, and Gerry Karp. 1993. Biology, Exploring Life. New York,
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City, Doubleday and Company, 179-180. Drummond, Hugh, Douglas Mock and
Christopher Stinson. 1990. Avian Siblicide.
American Scientist, 78:438. Heinsohn, Robert and Craig Packer. 1995.
Complex Cooperative Strategies in Group- Territorial African Lions.
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Effect of Ectoparasitic Mites on Sexual Selection in a Sonoran Desert
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A parasitic relationship is one in which one organism, the parasite, lives off of another organism, the host, harming it and possibly causing death. The parasite lives on or in the body of the host.
A few examples of parasites are tapeworms, fleas, and barnacles. Tapeworms are segmented flatworms that attach themselves to the insides of the intestines of animals such as cows, pigs, and humans. They get food by eating the host's partly digested food, depriving the host of nutrients. Fleas harm their hosts, such as dogs, by biting their skin, sucking their blood, and causing them to itch. The fleas, in turn, get food and a warm home. Barnacles, which live on the bodies of whales, do not seriously harm their hosts, but they do itch and are annoying.
Usually, although parasites harm their hosts, it is in the parasite's best interest not to kill the host, because it relies on the host's body and body functions, such as digestion or blood circulation, to live.
Some parasitic animals attack plants. Aphids are insects that eat the sap from the plants on which they live. Parasitic plants and fungi can attack animals. A fungus causes lumpy jaw, a disease that injures the jaws of cattle and hogs. There are also parasitic plants and fungi that attack other plants and fungi. A parasitic fungus causes wheat rust and the downy mildew fungus attacks fruit and vegetables. Some scientists say that one-celled bacteria and viruses that live in animals and harm them, such as those that cause the common cold, are parasites as well. However, they are still considered different from other parasites. Many types of parasites carry and transmit disease. Lyme disease is trasmitted by deer ticks.
A parasite and its host evolve together. The parasite adapts to its environment by living in and using the host in ways that harm it. Hosts also develop ways of getting rid of or protecting themselves from parasites. For example, they can scratch away ticks. Some hosts also build a symbiotic relationship with another organism that helps to get rid of the parasite. Ladybugs live on plants, eating the aphids and benefiting by getting food, while the plant benefits by being rid of the aphids.