Predator – Prey Relationship




Predator – Prey Relationship


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Predator – Prey Relationship


Predator – Prey Relationship

In ecology, predation describes a biological interaction where a predator (an organism that is hunting) feeds on its prey (the organism that is attacked). Predators may or may not kill their prey prior to feeding on them, but the act of predation often results in the death of its prey and the eventual absorption of the prey's tissue through consumption. Other categories of consumption are herbivory (eating parts of plants) and detritivory, the consumption of dead organic material (detritus). All these consumption categories fall under the rubric of consumer-resource systems. It can often be difficult to separate various types of feeding behaviors. For example, some parasitic species prey on a host organism and then lay their eggs on it for their offspring to feed on it while it continues to live or on its decaying corpse after it has died. The key characteristic of predation however is the predator's direct impact on the prey population. On the other hand, detritivores simply eat dead organic material arising from the decay of dead individuals and have no direct impact on the "donor" organism(s).

Selective pressures imposed on one another often leads to an evolutionary arms race between prey and predator, resulting in various antipredator adaptations. Ways of classifying predation surveyed here include grouping by trophic level or diet, by specialization, and by the nature of the predator's interaction with prey.

True predation

A true predator can commonly be known as one which kills and eats another organism. Whereas other types of predator all harm their prey in some way, this form certainly kills them. Predators may hunt actively for prey, or sit and wait for prey to approach within striking distance, as in ambush predators. Some predators kill large prey and dismember or chew it prior to eating it, such as a jaguar or a human; others may eat their (usually much smaller) prey whole, as does a bottlenose dolphin swallowing a fish, or a snake, duck or stork swallowing a frog. Some animals that kill both large and small prey for their size (domestic cats and dogs are prime examples) may do either depending upon the circumstances; either would devour a large insect whole but dismember a rabbit. Some predation entails venom which subdues a prey creature before the predator ingests the prey by killing, which the box jellyfish does, or disabling it, found in the behavior of the cone shell. In some cases, the venom, as in rattlesnakes and some spiders, contributes to the digestion of the prey item even before the predator begins eating. In other cases, the prey organism may die in the mouth or digestive system of the predator. Baleen whales, for example, eat millions of microscopic plankton at once, the prey being broken down well after entering the whale. Seed predation and egg predation are other forms of true predation, as seeds and eggs represent potential organisms. Predators of this classification need not eat prey entirely. For example, some predators cannot digest bones, while others can. Some may eat only part of an organism, as in grazing (see below), but still consistently cause its direct death.


Grazing organisms may also kill their prey species, but this is seldom the case. While some herbivores like zooplankton live on unicellular phytoplankton and have no choice but to kill their prey, many only eat a small part of the plant. Grazing livestock may pull some grass out at the roots, but most is simply grazed upon, allowing the plant to regrow once again. Kelp is frequently grazed in subtidal kelp forests, but regrows at the base of the blade continuously to cope with browsing pressure. Animals may also be 'grazed' upon; female mosquitos land on hosts briefly to gain sufficient proteins for the development of their offspring. Starfish may be grazed on, being capable of regenerating lost arms.


Parasites can at times be difficult to distinguish from grazers. Their feeding behavior is similar in many ways, however they are noted for their close association, with their host species. While a grazing species such as an elephant may travel many kilometers in a single day, grazing on many plants in the process, parasites form very close associations with their hosts, usually having only one or at most a few in their lifetime. This close living arrangement may be described by the term symbiosis, "living together", but unlike mutualism the association significantly reduces the fitness of the host. Parasitic organisms range from the macroscopic mistletoe, a parasitic plant, to microscopic internal parasites such as cholera. Some species however have more loose associations with their hosts. Lepidoptera (butterfly and moth) larvae may feed parasitically on only a single plant, or they may graze on several nearby plants. It is therefore wise to treat this classification system as a continuum rather than four isolated forms.


Parasitoids are organisms living in or on their host and feeding directly upon it, eventually leading to its death. They are much like parasites in their close symbiotic relationship with their host or hosts. Like the previous two classifications parasitoid predators do not kill their hosts instantly. However, unlike parasites, they are very similar to true predators in that the fate of their prey is quite inevitably death. A well known example of a parasitoids are the ichneumon wasps, solitary insects living a free life as an adult, then laying eggs on or in another species such as a caterpillar. Its larva(e) feed on the growing host causing it little harm at first, but soon devouring the internal organs until finally destroying the nervous system resulting in prey death. By this stage the young wasp(s) are developed sufficiently to move to the next stage in their life cycle. Though limited mainly to the insect order Hymenoptera, Diptera and Coleoptera parasitoids make up as much as 10% of all insect species.[

Trophic level

Predators are often another organism's prey, and likewise prey are often predators. Though blue jays prey on insects, they may in turn be prey for cats and snakes, which, in the latter's case, may themselves be the prey of hawks. One way of classifying predators is by trophic level. Organisms which feed on autotrophs, the producers of the trophic pyramid, are known as herbivores or primary consumers; those that feed on heterotrophs such as animals are known as secondary consumers. Secondary consumers are a type of carnivore, but there are also tertiary consumers eating these carnivores, quartary consumers eating them, and so forth. Because only a fraction of energy is passed on to the next level, this hierarchy of predation must end somewhere, and very seldom goes higher than five or six levels, and may go only as high as three trophic levels (for example, a lion that preys upon large herbivores such as wildebeest which in turn eat grasses). A predator at the top of any food chain (that is, one that is preyed upon by no organism) is called an apex predator; examples include the orca, sperm whale, anaconda, Komodo dragon, tiger, lion, tiger shark, Nile crocodile, and most eagles -- and even omnivorous humans and grizzly bears. An apex predator in one environment may not retain this position as a top predator if introduced to another habitat, such as a dog among alligators or a snapping turtle among jaguars; a predatory species introduced into an area where it faces no predators, such as a domestic cat or a dog in some insular environments, can become an apex predator by default.

Many organisms (of which humans are prime examples) eat from multiple levels of the food chain and thus make this classification problematic. A carnivore may eat both secondary and tertiary consumers, and its prey may itself be difficult to classify for similar reasons. Organisms showing both carnivory and herbivory are known as omnivores. Even herbivores such as the giant panda may supplement their diet with meat. Scavenging of carrion provides a significant part of the diet of some of the most fearsome predators. Carnivorous plants would be very difficult to fit into this classification, producing their own food but also digesting anything that they may trap. Organisms which eat detritivores or parasites would also be difficult to classify by such a scheme.


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