Sediments, not plants, offer the preferred refuge for Daphnia against fish predation in Mediterranean shallow lakes: an experimental demonstration

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Freshwater Biology, Blackwell Publishing Ltd, Volume 57, Number 4, p.795–802 (2012)



behaviour; fish avoidance; horizontal migration; vertical migration; water level


1. Different behavioural responses of planktonic animals to their main predators, fish, have been reported from shallow lakes. In north temperate lakes, large-bodied zooplankton may seek refuge from predation among macrophytes, whereas in subtropical lakes, avoidance of macrophytes has been observed. The prevalent behaviour probably depends on the characteristics of the fish community, which in Mediterranean lakes is typically dispersed in both the open water zone and in the littoral, as in temperate lakes, and is dominated by small size classes, as in subtropical lakes.2. We performed ‘habitat choice’ experiments to test the response of Daphnia magna to predation cues at both the horizontal and vertical level by mimicking a ‘shallow littoral’ zone with plants and a ‘deeper pelagic’ zone with sediments.3. Initial separate response experiments showed that natural plants, artificial plants and predation cues all repelled D. magna in the absence of other stimuli, while sediments alone did not trigger any significant response by D. magna.4. The habitat choice experiments showed that, in the presence of predation cues and absence of plants, Daphnia moved towards areas with sediment. In the presence of both plants and sediments, Daphnia moved away from the plants towards the sediments under both shallow and deep water treatment conditions.5. Based on these results, we suggest that Daphnia in Mediterranean shallow lakes avoid submerged macrophytes and instead prefer to hide near the sediment when exposed to predation risk, as also observed in subtropical shallow lakes. This pattern is not likely to change with water level alterations, a common feature of lakes in the region, even if the effectiveness of the refuge may be reduced.