Data for: “Increasing availability of palatable prey induces predator‑dependence and increases predation on unpalatable prey”
Understanding the factors governing predation remains a top priority in ecology. Using a dragonfly nymph-tadpole system, we experimentally varied predator density, prey density, and prey species ratio to investigate: (i) whether predator interference varies between prey types that differ in palatability, (ii) whether adding alternate prey influences the magnitude of predator interference, and (iii) whether patterns of prey selection vary according to the predictions of optimal diet theory. In single-prey foraging trials, predation of palatable leopard frog tadpoles was limited by prey availability and predator interference, whereas predation of unpalatable toad tadpoles was limited by handling time. Adding unpalatable prey did not affect the predator’s kill rate of palatable prey, but the presence of palatable prey increased the influence of predator density on the kill rate of unpalatable prey and reduced unpalatable prey handling time. Prey selection did not change with shifts in the relative abundance of prey types. Instead, predators selected easy-to-capture unpalatable prey at low total densities and harder-to-capture palatable prey at high densities. These results improve our understanding of generalist predation in communities with mobile prey, and illustrate that characteristics of the prey types involved govern the extent to which alternate prey influence the predator’s kill rate.