Loss of body mass under predation risk: cost of antipredatory behaviour or adaptive fit-for-escape?
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Predation risk may compromise the ability of animals to acquire and maintain body reserves by hindering 14 foraging efficiency and increasing physiological stress. Locomotor performance may depend on body mass, so losing mass under predation risk could be an adaptive response of prey to improve escape ability. We studied individual variation in antipredatory behaviour, feeding rate, body mass and escape performance in the lacertid lizard Psammodromus algirus. Individuals were experimentally exposed to different levels of food availability (limited or abundant) and predation risk, represented by reduced refuge availability and simulated predator attacks. Predation risk induced lizards to reduce conspicuousness behaviourally and to avoid feeding in the presence of predators. If food was abundant, alarmed lizards reduced feeding rate, losing mass. Lizards supplied with limited food fed at near-maximum rates independently of predation risk but lost more mass when alarmed; thus, mass losses experienced under predation risk were higher than those expected from feeding interruption alone. Although body mass of lizards varied between treatments, no component of escape performance measured during predator attacks (endurance, speed, escape strategy) was affected by treatments or by variations in body mass. Thus, the body mass changes were consistent with a trade-off between gaining resources and avoiding predators, mediated by hampered foraging efficiency and physiological stress. However, improved escape efficiency is not required to explain mass reduction upon predator encounters beyond that expected from feeding interruption or predation-related stress. Therefore, the idea that animals may regulate body reserves in relation to performance demands should be reconsidered.