Maternally induced intraclutch cannibalism: an adaptive response to predation risk?

Tigreros, N., Norris, R. H., Wang, E. H. and Thaler, J. S. (2017) Ecol Lett. doi:10.1111/ele.12752

Theory on condition-dependent risk-taking indicates that when prey are in poor condition, their anti-predator responses should be weak. However, variation in responses resulting from differences in condition is generally considered an incidental by-product of organisms living in a heterogeneous environment. Using Leptinotarsa decemlineata beetles and stinkbug (Podisus maculiventris) predators, we hypothesised that in response to predation risk, parents improve larval nutritional condition and expression of anti-predator responses by promoting intraclutch cannibalism. We showed that mothers experiencing predation risk increase production of unviable trophic eggs, which assures provisioning of an egg meal to the newly hatched offspring. Next, we experimentally demonstrated that egg cannibalism reduces L. decemlineata vulnerability to predation by improving larval nutritional condition and expression of anti-predator responses. Intraclutch cannibalism in herbivorous insects might be a ubiquitous strategy, aimed to overcome the dual challenge of feeding on protein-limited diets while living under constant predation threat.