Habitat complexity dampens selection on prey activity level

Carl N. Keiser*, Spencer J. Ingley, Benjamin J. Toscano, Inon Scharf, Jonathan N. Pruitt

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Conspecific prey individuals often exhibit persistent differences in behavior (i.e., animal personality) and consequently vary in their susceptibility to predation. How this form of selection varies across environmental contexts is essential to predicting ecological and evolutionary dynamics, yet remains currently unresolved. Here, we use three separate predator–prey systems (sea star–snail, wolf spider–cricket, and jumping spider–cricket) to independently examine how habitat structural complexity influences the selection that predators impose on prey behavioral types. Prior to conducting staged predator–prey interaction encounters, we ran prey individuals through multiple behavioral assays to determine their average activity level. We then allowed individual predators to interact with groups of prey in either open or structurally complex habitats and recorded the number and individual identity of prey that were eaten. Habitat complexity had no effect on overall predation rates in any of the three predator–prey systems. Despite this, we detected a pervasive interaction between habitat structure and individual prey activity level in determining individual prey survival. In open habitats, all predators imposed strong selection on prey behavioral types: sea stars preferentially consumed sedentary snails, while spiders preferentially consumed active crickets. Habitat complexity dampened selection within all three systems, equalizing the predation risk that active and sedentary prey faced. These findings suggest a general effect of habitat complexity that reduces the importance of prey activity level in determining individual predation risk. We reason this occurs because activity level (i.e., movement) is paramount in determining risk within open environments, whereas in complex habitats, other behavioral traits (e.g., escape ability to a refuge) may take precedence.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)25-32
Number of pages8
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2018


  • activity
  • habitat complexity
  • individual variation
  • predator–prey interactions
  • selection


Dive into the research topics of 'Habitat complexity dampens selection on prey activity level'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this