In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Predator-Prey Interactions

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Evolution of Predator-Prey Interactions
  • Patterns of Abundance and Population Regulation
  • The Influence of Predator-Prey Interactions on the Community
  • Modeling Predator-Prey Relationships
  • Mechanisms of Predation and Fear
  • Humans and their Effects on Predator-Prey Interactions

Ecology Predator-Prey Interactions
Timothy C. Roth II, Maria Thaker
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 August 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 May 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199830060-0100


All animals are either predators or prey and, in most cases, they are both. The interactions involved in attempting to eat and avoid being eaten have strong and wide-reaching influences across all facets of ecology, from individual phenotypic responses and population dynamics, to community interactions, and even to how we attempt to manage and conserve the natural world. As in many subfields of ecology, the science behind predator-prey investigations has been driven by theory, including important advances in generating and testing predictions. This article highlights the breadth of influence that predator-prey interactions have on ecology. The sections that follow address the effects of predator-prey interactions, such as those at the individual level, expressed through behavior, morphology, physiology, and life history, as well as their effects on population dynamics and community composition. At the individual level, the predator-prey interaction will be arranged in two perspectives: those of the predator and those of the prey. The article also considers the less typical and more integrative aspects of predator-prey interactions, such as their physiological and neurological mechanisms and their relevance for questions associated with conservation. In addition, this article will consider the validity of including parasitism and herbivory within the broad definition of predation. A great deal of debate is ongoing as to whether these two ecological interactions possess similar enough qualities with predation to be characterized as one phenomenon. Those sections of this article will cover this debate and provide the reader with resources with which to consider this question.

General Overviews

To acquire a broad overview of the field of predator-prey ecology, one should begin by examining several excellent reviews and general resources on the subject. A great starting point for researchers interested in an introduction to predator-prey ecology is Barbosa and Castellanos 2005, which examines the subject from behavioral, population, and applied perspectives. For a more detailed approach, Lima and Dill 1990 provides a readable synthesis of behavioral trade-offs involved in predator-prey interactions, one that is broadened in ecological scope in Lima 1998 and, written later, Chase, et al. 2002. Dawkins and Krebs 1979 provides an introduction to the evolution of the predator-prey arms race, while Abrams 2000 provides a critical approach to the arms race using a largely theoretical background for the predator-prey interaction, especially in terms of its evolutionary stability. For birds and mammals specifically, Caro 2005 describes the evolution of the wide range of behavioral and morphological traits that minimize predation risk.

  • Abrams, Peter A. 2000. The evolution of predator-prey interactions: Theory and evidence. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 31:79–105.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.ecolsys.31.1.79

    A very detailed review on the evolution/coevolution of the predator-prey interaction. Abrams supports his arguments with a strong theoretical background beginning with early Lokta-Volterra models and advancing through gaps in current models.

  • Barbosa, Pedro, and Ignacio Castellanos, eds. 2005. Ecology of predator-prey interactions. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    This edited volume constitutes an excellent overview of some of the current ideas and trends occurring in the field and takes an integrative and holistic approach (incorporating behavior, physiology, ecology, evolution, and conservation) to the subject. See especially p. 394.

  • Caro, Tim. 2005. Antipredator defenses in birds and mammals. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

    This book is a comprehensive overview of the morphological and behavioral adaptations of birds and mammals that evolved to minimize predation risk. Caro discusses the ability to recognize predators, the traits that reduce predator detection, and those that advertise unpalatability, as well as the benefits of grouping and active defense.

  • Chase, Jonathan M., Peter A. Abrams, James P. Grover, et al. 2002. The interaction between predation and competition: A review and synthesis. Ecology Letters 5.2: 302–315.

    DOI: 10.1046/j.1461-0248.2002.00315.x

    This review addresses the role of predation as it integrates theories about the role of competition in community regulation. It examines several important arguments about the relevance of predation in changing interactions between competitors.

  • Dawkins, Richard, and John R. Krebs. 1979. Arms races between and within species. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Biological Sciences 205:489–511.

    DOI: 10.1098/rspb.1979.0081

    A classic review of the fundamental questions of coevolution. The discussions in this article include, yet reach well beyond, predator-prey interactions. Accessible to undergraduates.

  • Lima, Steven L. 1998. Nonlethal effects in the ecology of predator-prey interactions: What are the ecological effects of anti-predator decision-making? Bioscience 48:25–34.

    DOI: 10.2307/1313225

    An extension of the logic of Lima and Dill 1990 applied to larger-scale phenomena, this review examines the influence of predator-prey behavior on population processes. This review helped influence the swing in studies away from density-mediated to trait-mediated interactions.

  • Lima, Steven L., and Lawrence M. Dill. 1990. Behavioral decisions made under the risk of predation: A review and prospectus. Canadian Journal of Zoology 68:619–640.

    DOI: 10.1139/z90-092

    One of the most influential and often cited references in predator-prey ecology. This very approachable review is a masterpiece of synthesis and careful writing that stimulated an entire field. Focusing on the individual’s behavior and its influence on predator-prey interactions, this article made popular the approach of behavioral trade-offs in ecology. A must read. Accessible to undergraduates.

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