In cannibalistic species, small individuals often shift habitats to minimize risk of predation by larger conspecifics. The availability of diverse size-structured habitats may mediate the incidence of cannibalism by larger individuals on smaller individuals and increase fitness of smaller individuals. We tested these hypotheses in a series of laboratory studies with Gammarus pulex, a freshwater amphipod inhabiting substrates with varying interstitial pore space sizes. In the absence of larger, potentially cannibalistic individuals, small Gammarus actively used all pore space sizes offered. They used only substrates containing food and preferred food items that provided cover to food items that did not. In the presence of larger G. pulex, small individuals almost exclusively used smaller pore spaces from which larger individuals were excluded. Small individual survival was significantly lower in the presence of larger Gammarus than in controls without larger individuals regardless of substrate size, but availability of mixed pore sizes significantly increased survival. Food consumption and growth per individual were not affected by the presence of larger individuals or substrate composition. Our results suggest that the distribution and availability of complex and high-quality habitats may affect the occurrence and significance of cannibalism in size-structured populations.
- size-structured populations
- threespine stickleback