Decline in wind may affect predator-prey balance

Washington: A new study by a University of Wisconsin Madison zoologist has found that declining wind may alter predator-prey relationships.

The study has demonstrated the way "global stilling" or declining wind may alter predator-prey relationships.

"There are all sorts of other things that are changing in the environment that affect animals and plants and their interactions," said Brandon Barton, a University of Wisconsin Madison researcher.

To find out how winds may have an impact on predator-prey relationships, Barton and his team grew plots of soybeans in alfalfa fields, protecting some with wind blocks and leaving others in the open.

They found two-thirds more lady beetles in the plots hidden from the wind, and twice as many soybean aphids on the plants growing in the open.

Wind has no direct effect on the aphids, tiny insects that hug the plants and anchor themselves while feeding with a needle-like mouthpart called a stylet, found the study.

"The aphids appear on the plants whether it is windy or not, and we showed that in lab experiments," noted Barton.

"But when you add the predators, with the wind block, the beetles eat something like twice as many aphids," explained Barton.

"Think of a wolf or coyote. Larger predators hunting by scent -- and the prey trying to detect their predators -- may be affected by less wind moving scents around," concluded Barton.

The study appeared in the journal Ecology.

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