Native predator eats invasive toxic prey: evidence for increased incidence of consumption rather than aversion-learning.
Contemporary adaptation of native prey species to invasive predators has been relatively well documented, but that of native predators to invasive prey has received less attention. Because the level of impact an invasive species will have on its predators versus its prey will determine changes in community trophic structure, it is important to understand how native predators respond to novel prey. Here we examine the response of native fence lizards to the invasion of red imported fire ants, a novel toxic prey. Examining invaded and uninvaded lizard populations, we tested whether or not aversion-learning occurs in juvenile fence lizards over successive feedings (within lifetime), how previous fire ant exposure may affect avoidance behavior (over generations), and whether population differences are consistent when prey choice exists. We also examine rates of phenotypic divergence in traits associated with the native species as both predator and prey. Aversion-learning did not occur in either population. Instead, the incidence of fire ant consumption increased over both successive feedings and generations. Lizards from the fire ant invaded population had a higher propensity to eat fire ants than fire ant-naïve lizards, even when given a choice between prey items. We found greater phenotypic divergence in traits associated with the native species as predator on, versus as prey to, fire ants. Although the strategy of eating these novel toxic prey can impose survival costs in the short term, over the longer-term, eating fire ants may cost little or even benefit survivors.