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The Insect Predation Game: Evolving Prey Defenses and Predator Responses

By W. Wyatt Hoback1, Tamara Smith1

University of Nebraska at Kearney

Laboratory experiment included in Teaching Issues and Experiments in Ecology (TIEE) Volume 4

Listed in Teaching Materials | resource by group Ecological Society of America

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Version 1.0 - published on 12 Mar 2018 doi:10.25334/Q4R96J - cite this

Licensed under CC Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International according to these terms



Insect communities are structured by the biotic interactions between generalist insect predators and their prey. Among insect predators, three general feeding methods are used (mandibles, raptorial forelegs, and unmodified legs) to capture prey, which usually consists of herbivorous insects. In this game, students play the role of three types of insect predators as they forage upon three potential prey species (represented by three different types of candy). Students conduct 5-10 simulations each of which lasts about 45 seconds. After each simulation, prey reproduce based on the number remaining, and predator numbers are adjusted to reflect mortality and reproduction. In insect communities, prey species may evolve defenses, including poisons, in response to strong predation pressure. However, costs of these defenses might include slowed growth and reduced reproduction rates. In this game, one prey type becomes poisonous, but suffers a lowered rate of reproduction, while the other types remain palatable and have higher rates of reproduction. If the predator type that suffers the greatest mortality evolves to feed on poison-protected prey species, all three predator types are maintained in the community. Otherwise, one or more of the predator species may go extinct. Discussion of the results, presented graphically, allows students to understand how evolutionary tradeoffs influence community structure and function.


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