College of Animal Science and Technology, Northwest A&F University, Yangling, 712100, Shaanxi, People’s Republic of China
Department of Ecology and Evolution, Goethe University Frankfurt, Max-von-Laue-Straße 13, 60438, Frankfurt am Main, Germany
A considerable body of the literature considers the potential impact of exotic predators on native prey organisms, while comparatively, few studies have asked whether and how native predators include novel prey types into their diet spectrum. Here, we asked whether the native aquatic heteropteran Diplonychus esakii preys on the highly invasive western mosquitofish (Gambusia affinis), which has been introduced to southern China and threatens native fish species through competition and predation on their fry. We conducted 48-h prey choice experiments under semi-natural conditions. In a ‘no-choice’ experiment (one predator and one potential prey; n = 200), we found the heteropterans to prey more on large-bodied fish, a pattern that was also described for other belostomatids, while prey sex had no effect on capture rates. Moreover, large-bodied heteropterans caught more fish than small-bodied individuals. However, overall capture rates in our study were low (11.5–30%) compared to studies on other belostomatids, which explains why subsequent binary prey choice experiments using one predator and two prey—either large and small females or male and female (with smaller sample sizes of n = 20 and 30, respectively)—did not confirm the results of our first experiment. Our study exemplifies how a pattern of body size-dependent predation can arise in a novel (not coevolved) predator–prey interaction. We tentatively argue that the observed pattern could be driven by intrinsic features of the predator, namely, altered prey preferences with increasing age coupled with a general preference for large-bodied prey, or changing nutritional needs at different developmental stages.