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Ido Tsurim and Alon Silberbush

Larvae of the mosquito Culiseta longiareolata Macquart have been suggested as important species in desert and Mediterranean temporary pond ecosystems through their strong competitive abilities and as intra-guild predators. We examined their potential predatory effect on larvae of the abundant saltmarsh mosquito Ochlerotatus caspius. We did not find evidence for predatory effects of C. longiareolata on O. caspius larvae. We suggest that, at least in our system, C. longiareolata is an apparent predator. Namely, it does not actively prey on mobile victims, but rather feeds on the carcasses of its fallen competitors additional to its generally immobile food. Hence, we do not expect the occurrence of anti-predator behaviors in response to C. longiareolata presence, including larval development characteristics and oviposition habitat selection.

Editors Israel Journal of Ecology & Evolution

Elsita M. Kiekebusch and Burt P. Kotler

The study of herbivore patch use has implications for herbivore habitat quality assessment, foraging behaviors, species interactions, and coexistence in patchy environments. This research focuses on the comparison of the effects of two qualitatively different plant defenses, mechanical (thorns) and chemical (tannins), on ibex foraging preferences during different seasons of the year. The occurrence of both chemical and mechanical plant defenses were experimentally manipulated in artificial resource patches, in addition to water availability. Ibex foraging preferences were quantified using giving-up densities during four separate fieldwork sessions in each of the seasons of the year at cliff sites overlooking the Zin Valley of the Negev Highlands. Both mechanical and chemical plant defenses significantly hindered ibex food intake overall. Mechanical and chemical defenses acted as substitutable defenses, meaning that their combined effects were not greater than additive. There were strong seasonal patterns of the amount of food consumed by ibex, further corroborated by comparison to rainfall levels. Seasonality also interacted with the effectiveness of plant defenses. Thorns were especially ineffective in summer, whereas tannins were most effective in spring. Decreases in seasonal food availability and increased marginal value of energy for ibex may have resulted in thorn ineffectiveness, while seasonal changes in the emergence of young foliage may have resulted in the greater springtime tannin effectiveness. Water was not found to mitigate the detrimental effects of tannins through dilution. The implications for decreased constraints on selective pressures on ibex due to the substitutability of plant defenses are discussed.

Ling-Ying Shuai, Yan-Ling Song, Burt P. Kotler, Keren Embar and Zhi-Gao Zeng

We studied the foraging behaviour of two sympatric rodents (Meriones meridianus and Dipus sagitta) in the Gobi Desert, Northwestern China. The role of the foraging behaviour in promoting species coexistence was also examined. We used giving-up densities (GUDs) in artificial food patches to measure the patch use of rodents and video trapping to directly record the foraging behaviour, vigilance, and interspecific interactions. Three potential mechanisms of coexistence were evaluated (1) microhabitat partitioning; (2) spatial heterogeneity of resource abundance with a tradeoff in foraging efficiency vs. locomotion; and (3) temporal partitioning on a daily scale. Compared to M. meridianus, D. sagitta generally possessed lower GUDs, spent more time on patches, and conducted more visits per tray per capita, regardless of microhabitat. However, M. meridianus possessed advantages in average harvesting rates and direct interference against D. sagitta. Our results only partly support the third mechanism listed above. We propose another potential mechanism of coexistence: a tradeoff between interference competition and safety, with M. meridianus better at interference competition and D. sagitta better at avoiding predation risk. This mechanism is uncommon in previously studied desert rodent systems.

Allison E. Bannister and Douglas W. Morris

We use theories of risk allocation to inform trade-offs between foraging in a rich and risky habitat versus using a poor but safe alternative. Recent advances in the theory predict that the length of exposure to good or bad conditions governs risk allocation, and thus habitat choice, when patterns of environmental risk are autocorrelated in time. We investigate the effects of these factors with controlled experiments on a small soil arthropod (Folsomia candida). We subjected animals to nine temporally autocorrelated 16-day feeding treatments varying in both the proportion (0.25, 0.50, and 0.75) and duration (short, medium and long intervals) of time when food was present and absent. We assessed foraging trade-offs by the animals' choice of occupying a risky dry habitat with food (rich) versus a safe moist habitat with no food (poor). Irrespective of autocorrelation in conditions, the proportion of time spent with no food primarily determined habitat selection by these collembolans. Our results imply an energetic threshold below which F. candida are forced to forage in rich and risky habitat despite the possibility of mortality through desiccation. The link to energetic thresholds suggests the possibility of employing state-dependent habitat selection as a leading indicator of habitat change.

Burt P. Kotler, Joel S. Brown, Sonny S. Bleicher and Keren Embar

Desert rodent assemblages from around the world provide convergent, but independent crucibles for testing theory and deducing general ecological principles. The heteromyid rodents of North America and the gerbils of the Middle East and their predators provide such an example. Both sets of rodents face predation from owls and vipers, but the North American species possess unique traits that may represent macroevolutionary breakthroughs: rattlesnakes have infra-red sensitive sensory pits, and heteromyids have cheek pouches. To test their significance, we brought together two gerbils (Middle East), two heteromyid rodents (a kangaroo rat and a pocket mouse; North America) in a common setting (a vivarium in the Negev Desert), and quantified the “opinions” of the rodents towards the North American sidewinder rattlesnake and the Middle Eastern Saharan horned viper and the foraging behavior of each in the face of these snake predators plus owl predators. Gerbils are fairly evenly matched in their anti-predator abilities, while the heteromyids differ widely, and these seem to match well with and may determine the types of mechanisms of species coexistence that operate in the communities of each continent. Evolutionary history, macroevolutionary traits, and risk management therefore combine to determine the characteristics of the organisms and the organization of their communities.

Burt Kotler

Sonny S. Bleicher, Joel S. Brown, Keren Embar and Burt P. Kotler

Unlike desert rodents from North America, Allenby's gerbil (Gerbillus andersoni allenbyi) from the Negev Desert, Israel has evolved with snakes that do not have heat-sensitive sensory pits that enhance night vision. Does this history affect their ability to assess and respond to a snake that has this ability? As a test, we exposed gerbils to risk of predation from various predators, including snakes, owls, and foxes. The snakes included the Saharan horned viper (Cerastes cerastes) and the sidewinder rattlesnake (Crotalus cerastes). The former snake lacks sensory pits and shares a common evolutionary history with the gerbil. The latter snake, while convergent evolutionarily on the horned viper, has sensory pits and no prior history with the gerbil. The gerbils exploited depletable resource patches similarly, regardless of snake species and moon phase. While the gerbils did not respond to the novel snake as a greater threat than their familiar horned viper, the gerbils were cognizant that the novel predator was a threat. In response to both snakes, giving-up densities (GUDs; the amount of food left in a resource patch following exploitation) of the gerbils were higher in the bush than open microhabitat. In response to moonlight, GUDs were higher on full than on the new moon. Based on GUDs, the gerbils responded most to the risk of predation from the red fox, least from the two snake species, and intermediate for the barn owl.

Deborah Saward-Arav, Asaf Sadeh, Marc Mangel, Alan R. Templeton and Leon Blaustein

Natural selection is predicted to favor females that can detect risks of desiccation and predation when choosing among temporary pools for oviposition. Pool size may serve both as a cue for desiccation risk and as a predictor for future colonization by predators or for the probability of present, undetected predators. Therefore, oviposition responses to pool size are expected to interact with the presence of predators that can be detected. We measured oviposition by two mosquito species, Culiseta longiareolata and Culex laticinctus, in a mesocosm experiment, crossing two pool surface sizes with presence or absence of the hemipteran predator, Notonecta maculata, which is chemically detectable by mosquitoes. Both mosquito species strongly avoided Notonecta pools. Using a mechanistic statistical model, we accounted for the higher encounter rate of females with larger pools, and determined their true oviposition preferences for pool size. C. laticinctus showed a clear preference for larger pools, but C. longiareolata, a species with larvae more vulnerable to predation, showed no significant preference for pool size. This study confirms the importance of risk of predation in explaining oviposition patterns, and suggests a possible inter-specific variation in the trade-off between predation and desiccation risks.