Adult animals that cannibalise juvenile conspecifics may gain energy but also risk filial cannibalism, that is, consumption of their own offspring. However, individuals vary in the magnitude of the costs and benefits of cannibalism depending on factors such as their current energy reserves or the probability that they have offspring in the vicinity. They may therefore also vary in the extent to which they participate in cannibalism. This study investigated whether the sex or brooding status of adult amphipods (Gammarus pulex) influenced whether they participated in cannibalism of juveniles. For females carrying embryos within their brood pouch, we also investigated two hypotheses to explain the presence or absence of cannibalistic behaviour by determining whether cannibalism was correlated with factors that might reflect energy demands (body length, brood size), or that might reflect a temporal change in cannibalistic behaviour (corresponding to stage of brood development). All reproductive classes of adults participated in some level of juvenile cannibalism, but females carrying offspring at an advanced stage of development (close to emergence from the brood pouch) consumed significantly fewer juveniles than other groups. Females thus appear to significantly reduce cannibalism of juveniles concurrent with the time when their own eggs are hatching within the brood pouch, prior to the release of their offspring. Because the experiment tested female responses to unfamiliar juveniles, this reflects a temporal change in behaviour rather than a response to phenotypic recognition cues, although additional direct recognition cannot be ruled out. Brooding females with large brood sizes or large body lengths, which might have disproportionately greater energetic demands, were not more likely to cannibalise juveniles. We also noted that juveniles that survived in trials where cannibalism occurred were significantly more likely to be found at the water surface, suggesting a possible adaptation to escape cannibalistic adults. Overall, our results provide evidence that amphipods use indirect temporal cues to avoid filial cannibalism.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Animal Science and Zoology
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics