Physiological stress as a fundamental mechanism linking predation to ecosystem functioning

Dror Hawlena*, Oswald J. Schmitz

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

285 Scopus citations


We present a framework to explain how prey stress responses to predation can resolve context dependency in ecosystem properties and functions such as food chain length secondary production elemental stoichiometry and cycling. We first describe the major nonspecific physiological stress mechanisms and their ecologically relevant consequences.We next synthesize the evidence for prey physiological responses to predation risk and demonstrate that they are similar across taxa and fit well within the general stress paradigm. We then illustrate the utility of our idea by applying our understanding of the ecological consequences of stress to explain how herbivoreprey physiological antipredator responses affect ecosystem dynamics. We hypothesize that stressed herbivores should forage on plant species with higher digestible carbohydrates than should unstressed herbivores to meet heightened energy demands. Increased consumption of carbohydrate-rich plants should reduce their relative abundance in the community hence altering the quantity and quality of plant litter entering the detrital pool. We further hypothesize that stress should change the elemental composition and energy content of prey excreta egesta and carcasses that enter the detrital pool. Finally prey stress should lower energy and nutrient conversion efficiency and hence the transfer of materials and energy up the food chain which should in turn weaken the association between ecosystem productivity and food chain length.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)537-556
Number of pages20
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Ecological stoichiometry
  • Food chain length
  • Metabolism
  • Predation risk
  • Stress physiology
  • Trophic dynamics


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