A trait-based framework for understanding predator–prey relationships: Trait matching between a specialist snake and its insect prey

Edvárd Mizsei, Zoltán Boros, Ádám Lovas-Kiss, Csaba Szepesváry, Márton Szabolcs, Gergő Rák, János Ujszegi, Zoltán Gál, Szabolcs Lengyel, Gellért Puskás

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

1 Citation (Scopus)

Abstract

High-quality information on predator–prey relationships is fundamental in understanding food webs, community assembly and ecosystem functioning. Recent analytical advances have made it possible to develop new trait-based approaches to study trophic relationships and evaluate trait matching between predators and prey. Here, we develop a novel analytical approach based on generalized linear mixed-effects models (GLMM) to test the importance of prey availability and to identify the set of prey traits that best explain the occurrence and number of prey in the predator's diet. We demonstrate that the approach by using an extensive dataset on prey availability, prey traits and gut content collected in all known populations of Vipera graeca, a little-known, endangered snake of alpine grasslands in the Pindos Mountains of the Balkan Peninsula. We show that V. graeca is a unique, venomous snake specialized on bush-crickets and grasshoppers (Orthoptera). Prey selection GLMMs showed that the ideal prey of V. graeca is abundant, large-bodied, has poor escape abilities (flightless, slow-moving and bad jumper) and prefers loose grasslands (as opposed to bare ground/rock or closed sward). Vipers restrict their feeding to periods of high Orthoptera abundance in the late summer and need to reach a certain body size to become able to catch large-sized prey. Our analytical approach provides a framework for trait matching between predators and prey and unprecedented fine-scale information on the importance of prey traits in prey selection by a specialist predator. The narrow trophic niche of V. graeca likely increases the vulnerability of this cold-adapted snake to extinction. A free Plain Language Summary can be found within the Supporting Information of this article.

Original languageEnglish
JournalFunctional Ecology
DOIs
Publication statusAccepted/In press - Jan 1 2019

Keywords

  • entomophagy
  • feeding ecology
  • grassland
  • insectivory
  • trait data
  • trophic network
  • Vipera ursinii
  • Viperidae

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics

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    Mizsei, E., Boros, Z., Lovas-Kiss, Á., Szepesváry, C., Szabolcs, M., Rák, G., Ujszegi, J., Gál, Z., Lengyel, S., & Puskás, G. (Accepted/In press). A trait-based framework for understanding predator–prey relationships: Trait matching between a specialist snake and its insect prey. Functional Ecology. https://doi.org/10.1111/1365-2435.13446